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Title: Edward MacDowell
Author: Gilman, Lawrence
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A Study



Author of _Phases of Modern Music_; _The Music of Tomorrow_; _Stories
of Symphonic Music_; _A Guide to Strauss' "Salome"_; _Debussy's
"Pelléas el Melisande": A Guide to the Opera_; _Aspects of Modern
Opera_; etc.

London: John Lane, The Bodley Head
New York: John Lane Company


[Illustration: Edward MacDowell]



This study is based upon the monograph on MacDowell which I
contributed in 1905 to the "Living Masters of Music" series. That
book could not, of course, remain in the series after the death of
MacDowell three years later; it was therefore taken from its place
and used as a foundation for the present volume, which supersedes it
in every respect. The biographical portion is almost wholly new, and
has been greatly enlarged, while the chapters dealing with
MacDowell's music have been revised and extended.

In completing this survey of one who in his art is still of to-day, I
have been poignantly conscious throughout of the fact that posterity
has an inconvenient habit of reversing the judgments delivered upon
creative artists by their contemporaries; yet to trim deftly one's
convictions in the hope that they may elastically conform to any one
of a number of possible verdicts to be expected from a capricious
futurity, is probably as dangerous a proceeding as to avow, without
equivocation or compromise, one's precise beliefs. It will therefore
be understood that the critical estimates which are offered in the
following pages have been set down with deliberation.

I desire to acknowledge gratefully the assistance which I have
received from various sources: Primarily, from Mrs. Edward MacDowell,
who has rendered help of an indispensable kind; from Mr. Henry T.
Finck, who furnished me with his views and recollections of MacDowell
as a pianist; and from reminiscences and impressions contributed by
Mr. W.H. Humiston, Miss J.S. Watson, and Mr. T.P. Currier--pupils and
friends of MacDowell--to _The Musician_, and by Mr. William Armstrong
to _The Étude_, parts of which I have been privileged to quote.
MacDowell wrote surprisingly few letters, and comparatively little of
his correspondence is of intrinsic or general interest. I am indebted
to Mr. N.J. Corey for permission to quote from several in his
possession; while for the use of letters written to MacDowell and his
wife by Liszt and Grieg my thanks are due to Mrs. MacDowell.


September 18, 1908.
















   I  EDWARD MACDOWELL (Frontispiece)

       From a sketch drawn by himself





        From a photograph taken at Wiesbaden in 1888










                  ... we grow immortal,
  And that ... harp awakens of itself
  To cry aloud to the grey birds; and dreams,
  That have had dreams for fathers, live in us.

--_The Shadowy Waters._




Edward MacDowell, the first Celtic voice that has spoken commandingly
out of musical art, achieved that priority through natural if not
inevitable processes. Both his grandfather and grandmother on his
father's side were born in Ireland, of Irish-Scotch parents. To his
paternal great-grandfather, Alexander MacDowell, the composer traced
the Scottish element in his blood; his paternal great-grandmother,
whose maiden name was Ann McMurran, was born near Belfast, Ireland.
Their son, Alexander, born in Belfast, came to America early in the
last century and settled in New York, where he married a countrywoman,
Sarah Thompson, whom he met after his arrival in the New World. A son,
Thomas (Edward's father), was born to them in New York--where, until
his retirement some time ago, he was engaged in business for many
years. He married in 1856 Frances M. Knapp, a young American woman of
English antecedents. Five years later, on December 18, 1861, their
third son, Edward Alexander (he discarded the middle name toward the
end of his life), was born at 220 Clinton Street, New York--a
neighbourhood which has since suffered the deterioration common to
many of what were once among the town's most irreproachable
residential districts.

From his father, a man of genuine aesthetic instincts, Edward derived
his artistic tendencies and his Celtic sensitiveness of temperament,
together with the pictorial instinct which was later to compete with
his musical ability for decisive recognition; for the elder MacDowell
displayed in his youth a facility as painter and draughtsman which his
parents, who were Quakers of a devout and sufficiently uncompromising
order, discouraged in no uncertain terms. The exercise of his own gift
being thus restrained, Thomas MacDowell passed it on to his younger
son--a somewhat superfluous endowment, in view of the fact that the
latter was to demonstrate so ample a gift for an equally effective
medium of expression.

(From a Sketch drawn by Himself)]

Edward had his first piano lessons, when he was about eight years
old, from a friend of the family, Mr. Juan Buitrago, a native of
Bogota, Colombia, and an accomplished musician. Mr. Buitrago was
greatly interested in the boy, and had asked to be permitted to teach
him his notes. Their piano practice at this time was subject to
frequent interruptions; for when strict supervision was not exercised
over his work, Edward was prone to indulge at the keyboard a fondness
for composition which had developed concurrently with, and somewhat
at the expense of, his proficiency in piano technique. He was not a
prodigy, nor was he in the least precocious, though his gifts were as
evident as they were various. He was not fond of drudgery at the
keyboard, and he lacked the miraculous aptness at acquirement which
belongs to the true prodigy. He was unusual chiefly by reason of the
versatility of his gifts. His juvenile exercises in composition were
varied by an apt use of the pencil and the sketching board. He liked
to cover his music books and his exercises with drawings that showed
both the observing eye and the naturally skilful hand of the born
artist. Nor did music and drawing form a sufficient outlet for his
impulse toward expression. He scribbled a good deal in prose and
verse, and was fond of devising fairy tales, which were written not
without a hint of the imaginative faculty which seems always to have
been his possession.

He continued his lessons with Mr. Buitrago for several years, when he
was taken to a professional piano teacher, Paul Desvernine, with whom
he studied until he was fifteen. He received, too, at this time,
occasional supplementary lessons from the brilliant Venezuelan,
Teresa Carreño. When he was in his fifteenth year it was determined
that he should go abroad for a course in piano and theory at the
Paris Conservatory, and in April, 1876, accompanied by his mother, he
left America for France. He passed the competitive examination for
admission to the Conservatory, and began the Autumn term as a pupil
of Marmontel in piano and of Savard in theory and composition--having
for a fellow pupil, by the way, that most remarkable of contemporary
music-makers, Claude Debussy, whom MacDowell described as having
been, even then, a youth of erratic and non-conformist tendencies.

MacDowell's experiences at the Conservatory were not unmixed with
perplexities and embarrassment. His knowledge of French was far from
secure, and he had considerable difficulty in following Savard's
lectures. It was decided, therefore, that he should have a course of
tuition in the language. A teacher was engaged, and Edward began a
resolute attack upon the linguistic _chevaux de frise_ which had
proved so troublesome an impediment--a move which brought him,
unexpectedly enough, to an important crisis in his affairs.

On one occasion it happened that, during these lessons in French, he
was varying the monotony of a study hour by drawing, under cover of
his lesson-book, a portrait of his teacher, whose most striking
physical characteristic was a nose of extravagant bulk. He was
detected just as he was completing the sketch, and was asked, much to
his confusion, to exhibit the result. It appears to have been a
remarkable piece of work as well as an excellent likeness, for the
subject of it was eager to know whether or not MacDowell had studied
drawing, and, if not, how he acquired his proficiency. Moreover, he
insisted on keeping the sketch. Not long after, he called upon Mrs.
MacDowell and told her, to her astonishment, that he had shown the
sketch to a certain very eminent painter--an instructor at the École
de Beaux Arts--and that the painter had been so much impressed by the
talent which it evidenced that he begged to propose to Mrs. MacDowell
that she submit her son to him for a three-years' course of free
instruction under his personal supervision, offering also to be
responsible for his support during that time. The issue was a
momentous one, and Mrs. MacDowell, in much perplexity of mind as to
the wisest settlement of her son's future, laid the matter before
Marmontel, who, fearful of losing one of his aptest pupils, urgently
advised her against diverting her son from a musical career. The
decision was finally left to MacDowell, and it was agreed that he
should continue his studies at the Conservatory. Although it seems
not unlikely that, with his natural facility as a painter and
draughtsman and his uncommon faculties of vision and imagination, he
would have achieved distinction as a painter, it may be questioned
whether in that case music would not have lost appreciably more than
art would have gained.

Conditions at the Conservatory were not to the taste of MacDowell,
for he found his notions of right artistic procedure frequently
opposed to those that prevailed among his teachers and fellow
students. His growing disaffection was brought to a head during the
summer of 1878. It was the year of the Exposition, and MacDowell and
his mother attended a festival concert at which Nicholas Rubinstein
played in memorable style Tchaikovsky's B-flat minor piano concerto.
His performance was a revelation to the young American. "I never can
learn to play like that if I stay here," he said resolutely to his
mother, as they left the concert hall. Mrs. MacDowell, whose fixed
principle it was to permit her son to decide his affairs according to
his lights, thereupon considered with him the merits of various
European Conservatories of reputation. They thought of Moscow,
because of Nicholas Rubinstein's connection with the Conservatory
there. Leipsic suggested itself; Frankfort was strongly recommended,
and Stuttgart seemed to offer conspicuous advantages. The latter
place was finally determined upon, and Mrs. MacDowell and her son
went there from Paris at Thanksgiving time, having agreed that the
famous Stuttgart Conservatory would yield the desired sort of

The choice was scarcely a happy one. It did not take MacDowell long
to realise that, if he expected to conform to the Stuttgart
requirements, he would be compelled to unlearn all that he had
already acquired--would have virtually, so far as his technique was
concerned, to begin _de novo_. Rubinstein himself, MacDowell was told
by one of the students, would have had to reform his pianistic
manners if he had placed himself under the guidance of the Stuttgart
pedagogues. Nor does the system of instruction then in effect at the
Conservatory appear to have been thorough even within its own sphere.
MacDowell used to tell of a student who could play an ascending scale
superlatively well, but who was helpless before the problem of
playing the same scale in its descending form.

His mother, disheartened over the failure of Stuttgart to justify her
expectations, was at a loss how best to solve the problem of her
son's immediate future. Having heard much of the ability of Carl
Heymann, the pianist, as an instructor, Mrs. MacDowell thought of the
Frankfort Conservatory, of which Joachim Raff was the head, and where
Heymann would be available as a teacher.

She learned from a friend, to whom she had written for advice, that
the pianist had promised soon to visit her at her home in Wiesbaden,
and it was suggested that the MacDowells pay her a visit at the same
time, and thus benefit by the opportunity of becoming acquainted with
Heymann. Mrs. MacDowell and her son were not slow to avail themselves
of this proposal, and the end of the year 1878 found them in
Wiesbaden. Here they met Heymann, who had just concluded a
triumphantly successful _tournée_ of the European capitals. They
heard him play, and were impressed by his mastery and poetic feeling.
Heymann was not, however, to begin teaching at the Frankfort
Conservatory until the following autumn, so MacDowell remained in
Wiesbaden, studying composition and theory with the distinguished
critic and teacher, Louis Ehlert, while his mother returned to


"Ehlert," MacDowell has written, "was very kind to me, and when I
asked him for 'lessons' he refused flatly, but said he would be glad
for us to 'study together,' as he put it. This rather staggered me,
as my idea in leaving Paris was to get a severe and regenerating
overhauling. I worked hard all winter, however, and heard lots of new
music at the _Cur Haus_, which was like manna in the desert after my
long French famine. Ehlert, who thought that Heymann was not the man
for me, spoke and wrote to Von Bulow about me; but the latter,
without even having seen me, wrote Ehlert a most insulting letter,
asking how Ehlert dared 'to propose such a silly thing' to him; that
he was not a music teacher, and could not waste his time on an
American boy, anyway. So, after all, I went to Frankfort and entered
the conservatory." MacDowell's first interview with Raff, in the
autumn of 1879, was, as he relates, "not promising." "Heymann took me
to him and told him, among other things, that, having studied for
several years the 'French School' of composition, I wished to study
in Germany. Raff immediately flared up and declared that there was no
such thing nowadays as 'schools'--that music was eclectic nowadays;
that if some French writers wrote flimsy music it arose simply from
flimsy attainments, and such stuff could never form a 'school.'
German and other writers were to be criticised from the same
standpoint--their music was bad, middling, or good; but there was no
such thing as cramping it into 'schools' nowadays, when all national
musical traits were common property."

MacDowell remained in the Conservatory for two years, studying
composition with Raff and piano with Heymann. His stay there was
eminently satisfactory and profitable to himself. He found both Raff
and Heymann artistic mentors of an inspiring kind; in Raff,
particularly, he encountered a most sympathetic and encouraging
preceptor, and an influence at once potent and engrossing--a force
which was to direct the currents of his own temperament into definite
artistic channels.

For Heymann as a pianist MacDowell had a fervent admiration. He spoke
of him as "a marvel," whose technique "seemed mysteriously capable of
anything." "When I went to him," MacDowell has said, "I had already
transposed most of the fugues and preludes of Bach (Paris ideas of
'thoroughness'!) and had gone through much rough technical work.
Heymann let me do what I wanted; but in hearing him practise and play
I learned more in a week than I ever had before." When Heymann, who
had already begun to show symptoms of the mental disorder which
ultimately overcame him, left the Conservatory in 1881, he
recommended MacDowell as his successor--a proposal which was
cordially seconded by Raff. But there were antagonistic influences at
work within the Conservatory. MacDowell's candidacy was opposed by
certain of the professors, on account, it was said, of his "youth";
but also, doubtless, because of the advocacy of Heymann, who was not
popular with his colleagues; for he dared, MacDowell has said, "to
play the classics as if they had been written by men with blood in
their veins." So MacDowell failed to get the appointment. He
continued, unofficially, as a pupil of Heymann, and went to him
constantly for criticism and advice.

MacDowell began at this time to take private pupils, and one of these
pupils, an American, Miss Marian Nevins, was later to become his
wife. He was then living in lodgings kept by a venerable German
spinster who was the daughter of one of Napoleon's officers. She was
very fond of her young lodger, and through her he became acquainted
with the work of Erckmann-Chartrian, whose tales deeply engrossed him
at this time. Later he moved to the Café Milani, on the Zeil, at that
time an institution of considerable celebrity. As a teacher he made a
rather prominent place for himself; the recommendation of Raff--who
had said to one of MacDowell's pupils that he expected "great things"
of him--had helped at the start, and his personality counted for not
a little. His appearance at this time (he was then nineteen years
old) is described as having been strikingly unlike that of the
typical American as known in Germany. "His keen and very blue eyes,
his pink and white skin, reddish mustache and imperial and jet black
hair, brushed straight up in the prevalent German fashion, caused him
to be known as 'the handsome American.'" Teaching at that time must
have been a sore trial to him. He was, as he continued to be
throughout his life, painfully shy; yet he seems, strangely enough,
to have had, even then, the knack for imparting instruction, for
quickening the interest and stimulating the enthusiasm of those who
came under his guidance, which in later years made him so remarkable
a teacher.

In 1881 MacDowell applied for the vacant position of head piano
teacher at the Conservatory in the neighbouring town of Darmstadt,
and was engaged. He found it an arduous and not too profitable post.
He has described it as "a dreary town, where the pupils studied music
with true German placidity." They procured all their music from a
circulating library, where the choice of novelties was limited to
late editions of the classics and a good deal of sheer trash, poor
dance music and the like. His work, which was unmitigated drudgery,
consumed forty hours a week. For a time he took up his quarters in
Darmstadt; but he missed the attractions of Frankfort; so throughout
his term he travelled on the railroad twice daily between the two
towns. In addition to his regular work at the Conservatory, he
undertook private lessons, going by train once a week to the
Erbach-Fürstenau castle at Erbach-Fürstenau, a wearisome three-hour
journey. The castle was a mediæval _Schloss_, with a drawbridge and
moat. There his pupils were little counts and countesses,
discouragingly dull and sleepy children who spoke only German and
Latin, and who had the smallest interest in music. MacDowell gave
them lessons in harmony as well as piano-playing, and one day, in the
middle of an elaborately simplified exposition of some rudimentary
point, he heard a gentle noise, looked around from the piano, and
discovered his noble young pupils with their heads on their arms,
fast asleep. MacDowell could never remember their different titles,
and ended by addressing them simply as "mademoiselle" and "monsieur,"
to the annoyance of the stern and ceremonious old châtelaine, the
Baroness of Rodenberg.

The twelve hours a week which he spent in railway travelling were
not, though, wholly unprofitable, for he was able to compose on the
train the greater part of his second "Modern Suite" for piano (op.
14). This was the second of his compositions which he considered
worthy of preservation, its predecessor being the "First Modern
Suite," written the year before in Frankfort. Much other music had
already found its way upon paper, had been tried in the unsparing
fire of his criticism, which was even then vigorous and searching,
and had been marked for destruction--a symphony, among other efforts.
His reading at this time was of engrossing interest to him. He was
absorbed in the German poets; Goethe and Heine, whom he was now able
to read with ease in the original German, he knew by heart--a
devotion which was to find expression a few years later in his
"Idyls" and "Poems" (op. 28 and 31). He had begun also to read the
English poets. He devoured Byron and Shelley; and in Tennyson's
"Idyls of the King" he found the spark which kindled his especial
love for mediæval lore and poetry. Yet while he was enamored of the
imaginative records of the Middle Ages, he had little interest, oddly
enough, in their tangible remains. He liked, for example, to summon a
vision of the valley of the Rhone, with its slow-moving human streams
flowing between Italy and the North, and with Sion still looking down
from its heights, where the bishops had been lords rather than
priests. But this was for him a purely imaginative enchantment. He
cared little about exploring the actual and visible memorials of the
past: to confront them as crumbling ruins gave him no pleasure, and,
as he used to say, he "hated the smells." It was this instinct which,
in his visits to the cathedrals, prompted him to stand as far back as
possible while the Mass was being said. To see in the dim distance
the white, pontifical figures moving gravely through the ritual, to
hear the low tones, enthralled and stirred him; but he shrank from
entering the sacristy, with its loud-voiced priests describing
perfunctorily the relics: that was a disillusionment not to be borne


Having found that his labours at Darmstadt were telling upon his
health, MacDowell resigned his position there and returned to
Frankfort. Here he divided his time between his private teaching and
his composition. He was ambitious also to secure some profitable
concert engagements as a pianist. He had made occasional appearances
at orchestral concerts in Wiesbaden, Frankfort, Darmstadt, but these
had yielded him no return save an increase of reputation.

At Raff's instigation he visited Liszt at Weimar in the spring of
1882, armed with his first piano concerto (op. 15). This work he had
just composed under amusing circumstances. One day while he was
sitting aimlessly before his piano there came a knock at his door,
and in walked, to his startled confusion, his master, Raff, of whom
MacDowell stood in unmitigated awe. "The honor," he relates, "simply
overwhelmed me. He looked rather quizzically around at my untidy
room, and said something about the English translation of his
_Welt-Ende_ oratorio (I found out after, alas, that he had wanted me
to copy it in his score for him; but with his inexplicable shyness he
only hinted at it, and I on my side was too utterly and idiotically
overpowered to catch his meaning); then he abruptly asked me what I
had been writing. I, scarcely realising what I was saying, stammered
out that I had a concerto. He walked out on the landing and turned
back, telling me to bring it to him the next Sunday. In desperation,
not having the remotest idea how I was to accomplish such a task, I
worked like a beaver, evolving the music from some ideas upon which I
had planned at some time to base a concerto. Sunday came, and I had
only the first movement composed. I wrote him a note making some
wretched excuse, and he put it off until the Sunday after. Something
happened then, and he put it off two days more; by that time I had
the concerto ready." Except for three lines of passage work in the
first part, the concerto remains to-day precisely as MacDowell
finished it then.

In the event, the visit to Liszt, which he had dreaded, was a
gratifying surprise. That beneficent but formidable personage
received him with kindly courtesy, and had Eugen D'Albert, who was
present, play the orchestral part of the concerto which MacDowell had
brought with him in manuscript, arranged for two pianos. Liszt
listened attentively as the two young musicians played it
through,--not too effectively,--and when they had finished he
commended it in warm terms. "You must bestir yourself," he warned
D'Albert, "if you do not wish to be outdone by our young American";
and he praised the boldness and originality of certain passages in
the music, especially their harmonic treatment.

What was at that time even more cheering to MacDowell, who had not
yet come to regard himself as paramountly a composer, was Liszt's
praise of his piano playing. He returned to Frankfort greatly
encouraged, and he was still further elated to receive soon after a
letter from Liszt in which, referring to the first "Modern Suite,"
which MacDowell had sent to him, the Abbé wrote:

    "... Since the foundation of the General Society of German
    Musicians, the definitive making up of the programs is entrusted
    to me, and I shall be very glad to recommend the execution of
    your work.

    "Will you be good enough to give to your master, my old friend,
    J. Raff, the assurance of my highest esteem and admiration.

    "F. LISZT.

    "Budapest. April 13, 1882."

(SEE PAGE 18)]

The nineteenth annual convention of the _Allgemeiner Deutscher
Musik-Verein_ was held that year at Zürich, from the 9th to the 12th
of July; and at the fifth concert of the series, on July 11, MacDowell
played his first piano suite. Both the music and his performance of it
were praised. A contemporaneous account speaks of the composer as "an
earnest and modest musician, free from all mannerisms," who "carried
his modesty so far that he played with his notes before him, though he
cannot have felt any particular necessity for having them there." He
"was recalled enthusiastically, and with many bravos, and may be proud
of the success he has achieved." Until then, as MacDowell confessed,
with engaging candour, to Mr. Henry T. Finck, he "had never waked up
to the idea" that his music could be worth actual study or memorising.
"I would not have changed a note in one of them for untold gold, and
_inside_ I had the greatest love for them; but the idea that any one
else might take them seriously had never occurred to me." A year
later, upon Liszt's recommendation, the suite and its successor, the
"Second Modern Suite," op. 14, were published at Leipzig by the famous
house of Breitkopf and Härtel. "Your two pianoforte suites," wrote
Liszt from Budapest, in February of that year, "are admirable. I
accept the dedication of your concerto with sincere pleasure and
thanks." The suites were the first of MacDowell's works to appear in

[1] The "Two Old Songs," which bear an earlier opus number,--9,--were
composed at a much later period--a fact which is betrayed by their

The death of Raff on June 25, 1882, brought to MacDowell his first
profound sorrow. There was a deep attachment between pupil and master,
and MacDowell felt in Raff's death the loss of a sincere friend, and,
as he later came to appreciate, a powerful ally. The influential part
which Raff bore in turning MacDowell's aims definitely and permanently
toward creative rather than pianistic activity could scarcely be
overestimated. When he first went to Paris, and during the later years
in Germany, there had been little serious thought on his part, or on
the part of his family, concerning his composition; his evident talent
for piano-playing had persistently overshadowed his creative gifts,
and had made it seem that his inevitable career was that of a
virtuoso. As he wrote in after years: "I had acquired from early
boyhood the idea that it was expected of me to become a pianist, and
every moment spent in 'scribbling' seemed to be stolen from the more
legitimate work of piano practice." It was Raff--Raff, who said to him
once: "Your music will be played when mine is forgotten"--who opened
his eyes.

The two following years,--from the summer of 1882 till the summer of
1884--were increasingly given over to composition, though MacDowell
continued his private teaching and made a few appearances in concert.
He continued to try his hand at orchestral writing, and in this
pursuit he was greatly favoured by the willingness of the conductors
of the _Cur-Orchesters_ at Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden, and elsewhere, to
"try over" in the rehearsal hour his experiments. His requests for
such a trial reading of his scores were seldom refused, and the
practical training in instrumentation which was afforded by the
experience he always regarded as invaluable. Much that he tested in
this manner was condemned as a result of the illuminating, if
chastening, revelations thus brought about; and almost all of his
orchestral writing which he afterward thought fit to publish received
the benefit of such practical tests.

The music which dates from this period comprises the three songs of
opus 11 ("Mein Liebchen,"[2] "Du liebst mich nicht," "Oben, wo
die Sterne glühen"); the two songs of op. 12 ("Nachtlied" and "Das
Rosenband"); the Prelude and Fugue (op. 13); the second piano suite
(op. 14)--begun in the days of his Darmstadt professorship; the
"Serenade" (op. 16); the two "Fantasiestücke" of op. 17:
"Erzählung" and the much-played "Hexentanz"; the "Barcarolle"
and "Humoreske" of op. 18; and the "Wald-Idyllen" (op. 19):
"Waldesstille," "Spiel der Nymphen," "Träumerei," "Dryadentanz."

[2] I give the German titles under which these compositions were
originally published.

In June, 1884, MacDowell returned to America, and on July 21, at
Waterford, Connecticut, he was married to his former pupil, Miss
Marian Nevins--a union, which, for perfection of sympathy and
closeness of comradeship, was, during the quarter of a century for
which it was to endure, nothing less than ideal. A few days later
MacDowell and his bride sailed from New York for Europe, innocent of
any very definite plans for the immediate future. They visited Exeter
and Bath, and then went to London, where they found lodgings at No. 5,
Woburn Place. There MacDowell's interest in the outer world was
divided between the British Museum, where he found a particular
fascination in the Egyptian and Syrian antiquities, and the
Shakespearian performances of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. He was
captivated by their performance of "Much Ado About Nothing," and made
a sketch for a symphonic poem which was to be called "Beatrice and
Benedick"--a plan which he finally abandoned. Most of the material
which was to form the symphonic poem went ultimately to the making of
the scherzo of the second piano concerto, composed during the
following year.

Returning to Frankfort, MacDowell and his wife lived for a short time
in a pension in the Praunheimer Strasse, keeping very much to
themselves in two small rooms. Upon their return from a brief
excursion to Paris, they found less restricted quarters in the Hotel
du Nord. In September of this year MacDowell learned of an
advantageous position that had been vacated at the Würzburg
Conservatory, and, assisted by letters from Frau Raff, Marmontel (his
former instructor at the Paris Conservatory), and the violinist
Sauret, he sought the place. But again, as at Frankfort three years
before, his youth was in his disfavour, and he was courteously


The following winter was given over largely to composition. The
two-part symphonic poem, "Hamlet and Ophelia," his first production of
important significance, was composed at this time. The "Drei
Poesien" (op. 20) and "Mondbilder" (op. 21), both written for
four-hand performance, also date from the winter of 1884-85, and the
second piano concerto was begun. The "Moon Pictures" of op. 21 ("The
Hindoo Maiden," "Stork's Story," "In Tyrol," "The Swan," "Visit of the
Bear"), after Hans Christian Andersen, were at first intended to form
a miniature orchestral suite; but an opportunity arose to have them
printed as piano duets, and the orchestral sketches were destroyed--a
regrettable outcome, as it seems.

His pupils, he found, were scattered, and he gave himself up without
restraint to the pleasures of creative writing. These were days of
quiet and deep happiness. He read much, often aloud in the
evening--fairy-tales, of which he was devotedly fond, legendary lore
of different countries, mediaeval romances, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson,
Benvenuto Cellini's Memoirs, Victor Hugo, Heine; and also Mark Twain.
Later, in the spring, the days were devoted partly to composition and
partly to long walks with his wife in the beautiful Frankfort woods,
where was suggested to MacDowell the particular mood that found
embodiment, many years later, in one of the last things that he wrote:
"From a German Forest," in the collection of "Fireside Tales."

The following summer (1885), the death of a friend of his earlier
Frankfort days, Lindsay Deas, a Scotchman, left vacant in Edinburgh
the post of examiner for the Royal Academy of Music, and Deas's family
presented MacDowell's name as a candidate. A trip to London was
undertaken for the purpose of securing the place, if possible--since
composition alone could not be depended upon for a livelihood; but
again his youth, as well as his nationality and his "modern
tendencies," militated against him. He was obliged to admit that he
had been a protégé of "that dreadful man Liszt," as the potentate of
Weimar was characterised by Lady Macfarren, an all-powerful factor in
the control of the institution; and that proving finally his
abandonment to a nefarious modernity, he was again rejected.

Upon their return to Germany the MacDowells moved from Frankfort to
Wiesbaden, where they spent the winter of 1885-86, living in a small
pension. The first concerto (op. 15) had recently been published by
Breitkopf and Härtel. The same year (1885) was marked by the
completion of the second concerto in D-minor, begun at Frankfort in
the previous winter, and the publication by Breitkopf and Härtel of
the full score of "Hamlet and Ophelia,"[3] with a dedication to Henry
Irving and Ellen Terry, from whose performances in London MacDowell
had caught the suggestion for the music. In the summer of 1886
MacDowell and his wife again yielded to their passion for travelling
and went to London to buy furniture, for they had wearied of living in
pensions and hotels and had determined to set up housekeeping. When
they returned they hired a little flat in the Jahnstrasse and
installed themselves therewith just enough furniture to give them
countenance. Here Mrs. MacDowell suffered an illness which threatened
for a time to bring a tragic termination to their happiness, and
through which the hope of a child was lost to them.

[3] The published score of this opus bears the title (in German):
"Hamlet; Ophelia: Two Poems for Grand Orchestra." But MacDowell
afterward changed his mind concerning this designation, and preferred
to entitle the work: "First Symphonic Poem (a. 'Hamlet'; b. 'Ophelia')."
This alteration is written in MacDowell's handwriting in his copy of
the printed score. When "Lancelot and Elaine" was published three
years later it bore the sub-title: "Second Symphonic Poem."

One afternoon in the spring of 1887 MacDowell and his friend Templeton
Strong, a brilliant American composer who had recently moved from his
home in Leipzig to Wiesbaden, were tramping through the country when
they came upon a dilapidated cottage on the edge of the woods, in the
Grubweg. It had been built by a rich German, not as a habitation, but
as a kind of elaborate summer house. The situation was enticing. The
little building stood on the side of the Neroberg, overlooking the
town on one side, with the Rhine and the Main beyond, and on the other
side the woods. The two Americans were captivated by it, and nothing
would do but that MacDowell should purchase it for a home. There was
some question of its practicability by his cooler-headed wife; but
eventually the cottage was bought, with half an acre of ground, and
the MacDowells ensconced themselves. There was a small garden, in
which MacDowell delighted to dig; the woods were within a stone's
throw; and he and Strong, who were inseparable friends, walked
together and disputed amicably concerning principles and methods of
music-making, and the need for patriotism, in which Strong was
conceived to be deficient.

This was a time of rich productiveness for MacDowell; and the life
that he and his wife were able to live was of an ideal serenity and
detachment. He was now devoting his entire energy to composition. He
put forth during these years at Wiesbaden the four pieces of op. 24
("Humoresque," "March," "Cradle Song," "Czardas"); the symphonic poem
"Lancelot and Elaine" (op. 25); the six songs, "From An Old Garden,"
to words by Margaret Deland (op. 26); the three songs for male chorus
of op. 27 ("In the Starry Sky Above Us," "Springtime," "The
Fisherboy"); the "Idyls" and "Poems" for piano (op. 28 and op. 31),
after Goethe and Heine; the symphonic poem "Lamia" (op. 29); the two
"Fragments" for orchestra after the "Song of Roland": "The Saracens"
and "The Lovely Aldâ" (op. 30); the "Four Little Poems" for
piano--"The Eagle," "The Brook," "Moonshine," "Winter" (op. 32); the
three songs of op. 33 ("Prayer," "Cradle Hymn," "Idyl") and the two of
op. 34 ("Menie," "My Jean"); and the "Romance" for 'cello and
orchestra. He had, moreover, the satisfaction of knowing that his work
was being received, both in Europe and in his own country, with
interest and respect. His reputation had begun unmistakably to spread.
"Hamlet and Ophelia" had been performed at Darmstadt, Wiesbaden,
Baden-Baden, Sondershausen, Frankfort. On March 8, 1884, his former
teacher, Teresa Carreno, had played his second piano suite at a
recital in New York; in March of the following year two movements from
the first suite were played at an "American Concert" given at Princes'
Hall, London; on March 30, 1885, at one of Mr. Frank Van der Stucken's
"Novelty Concerts" in New York, Miss Adele Margulies played the second
and third movements from the first piano concerto. In the same year
Mme. Carreño played on tour in America three movements from the second
suite, and in the following September she played at the Worcester
Festival of that year the "Hexentanz" of op. 17. On November 4,
1886, the "Ophelia" section of op. 22 was performed at the first of
Mr. Van der Stucken's "Symphonic Concerts" at Chickering Hall, New
York. Mr. H.E. Krehbiel, reviewing the work in the _Tribune_, praised
the orchestration as "brilliant" ("though the models studied are
rather more obvious than we like"), the melodic invention as
"beautiful" and as having a poetical mood and characteristic outline.
He considered that the music deserved repetition during the course of
the season, and pronounced it "a finer work in every respect than the
majority of the novelties which have come to us this season with
French and English labels." Mr. Henry T. Finck, writing in the
_Evening Post_, characterised the work as "an exquisitely conceived
tone-poem, charmingly orchestrated and full of striking harmonic
progressions." A year after the performance of the "Ophelia" in New
York Mr. Van der Stucken produced its companion piece, "Hamlet." In
April, 1888, at the first of a course of "pianoforte-concerto
concerts" given by Mr. B.J. Lang at Chickering Hall, Boston,
MacDowell's first concerto was played by Mr. B.L. Whelpley. "The
effect upon all present," wrote Mr. W.F. Apthorp in the _Transcript_,
"was simply electric." The concerto "was a surprise, if ever there was
one. We can hardly," he declared, "recall a composition so full of
astonishing and unprecedented effects [it will be recalled that this
concerto was composed in 1882, when MacDowell was nineteen years old].
The work was evidently written at white heat; its brilliancy and
vigour are astounding. The impression it made upon us, in other
respects, is as yet rather undigested... But its fire and forcibleness
are unmistakable." These opinions are of interest, for they testify to
the prompt and ungrudging recognition which was accorded to
MacDowell's work, from the first, by responsible critics in his own

He might well have felt some pride in the sum of his achievements at
this time. He had not completed his twenty-seventh year; yet he had
published a concerto and two orchestral works of important
dimensions--"Hamlet and Ophelia" and "Lancelot and Elaine"; most of
the music that he had so far written had been publicly performed, and
almost invariably praised with warmth; and he was becoming known in
Europe and at home. His material affairs, however, were far from being
in a satisfactory or promising condition; for there was little more
than a precarious income to be counted upon from his compositions; and
he had given up teaching. Musicians from America began coming to the
little Wiesbaden retreat to visit the composer and his wife, and he
was repeatedly urged to return to America and assume his share in the
development of the musical art of his country. It was finally decided
that, all things considered, conditions would be more favorable in the
United States; and in September, 1888, the MacDowells sold their
Wiesbaden cottage, not without many pangs, and sailed for their own

From a photograph taken at Wiesbaden in 1888]

They settled in Boston, as being less huge and tumultuous than New
York, and took lodgings in Mount Vernon Street. In later years they
lived successively at 13 West Cedar Street and at 38 Chestnut Street.
Though all of his more important music was as yet unwritten, MacDowell
found himself already established in the view of the musical public as
a composer abundantly worthy of honour at the hands of his countrymen.
He made his first public appearance in America, in the double capacity
of pianist and composer, at a Kneisel Quartet concert in Chickering
Hall, Boston, on November 19, 1888, playing the Prelude, Intermezzo,
and Presto from his first piano suite, and, with Kneisel and his
associates, the piano part in Goldmark's B-flat Quintet. He was
cordially received, and Mr. Apthorp, writing in the _Transcript_ of
his piano playing, praised his technique as "ample and brilliant," and
as being especially admirable "in the higher phases of playing"; "he
plays," wrote this critic, "with admirable truth of sentiment and
musical understanding." Of the early and immature suite he could not
well write with much enthusiasm, though he found in it "life and

In the following spring MacDowell made a more auspicious appearance,
and one which more justly disclosed his abilities as a composer,
when, on March 5, he played his second concerto, for the first time
in public, at an orchestral concert in Chickering Hall, New York,
under the direction of Mr. Theodore Thomas. His success was then
immediate and emphatic. Mr. Krehbiel, in the _Tribune_, praised the
concerto as "a splendid composition, so full of poetry, so full of
vigor, as to tempt the assertion that it must be placed at the head
of all works of its kind produced by either a native or adopted
citizen of America"; and he confessed to having "derived keener
pleasure from the work of the young American than from the
experienced and famous Russian"--Tchaikovsky, whose Fifth Symphony
was performed then for the first time in New York. "Several
enthusiastic and unquestionably sincere recalls," concluded the
writer, "were the tokens of gratitude and delight with which his
townspeople rewarded him." A month later MacDowell played the same
concerto in Boston, at a Symphony concert, under Mr. Gericke; his
performance of it evoked "rapt attention," and "the very heartiest of
plaudits, in which both orchestra and audience joined."

In the summer of that year (1889) MacDowell and his wife went abroad.
He had been invited to take part in an "American Concert" at the Paris
Exposition, and on July 12, under Mr. Van der Stucken's direction, he
played his second concerto.[4] After a short stay on the continent, he
returned with his wife to America.

[4] The rest of the programme, it may be interesting to note,
contained Arthur Foote's overture, "In the Mountains," Van der
Stucken's suite, "The Tempest," Chadwick's "Melpomene" overture,
Paine's "Oedipus Tyrannus" prelude, a romance and polonaise for violin
and orchestra by Henry Holden Huss, and songs by Margaret Ruthven
Lang, Dudley Buck, Chadwick, Foote, Van der Stucken. The concert ended
with an "_ouverture festivale sur l'Hymne Américaine_, 'The Star
Spangled Banner,'" by Dudley Buck.

MacDowell found in Boston a considerable field for his activity as
pianist and teacher. He took many private pupils, and he made, during
the eight years that he remained there, many public appearances in
concert. In composition, these years were the most fruitful of his
life. He wrote during this period the Concert Study for piano (op.
36); the set of pieces after Victor Hugo's "Les Orientales" (op.
37)--"Clair de lune," "Dans le Hamac," "Danse Andalouse"; the
"Marionettes" (op. 38); the "Twelve Studies" of op. 39; the "Six Love
Songs" (op. 40); the two songs for male chorus (op. 41)--"Cradle Song"
and "Dance of the Gnomes"; the orchestral suite in A-minor (op. 42)
and its supplement, "In October" (op. 42-A);[5] the "Two Northern
Songs" and "Barcarolle" (op. 43 and op. 44) for mixed voices; the
"Sonata Tragica" (op. 45); the 12 "Virtuoso Studies" of op. 46; the
"Eight Songs" (op. 47); the second ("Indian") suite for orchestra; the
"Air" and "Rigaudon" (op. 49) for piano; the "Sonata Eroica" (op. 50);
and the "Woodland Sketches" (op. 51). This output did not contain his
most mature and characteristic works--those were to come later, during
the last six years of his creative activity; yet the product was in
many ways a notable one, and some of it--the two sonatas, the "Indian"
suite, the songs of op. 47, the "Woodland Sketches"--was, if not
consistently of his very best, markedly fine and characteristic in
quality. This decade (from 1887 to 1897) saw also the publication of
all his work contained between his op. 22 ("Hamlet and Ophelia") and
op. 51 (the "Woodland Sketches") with the exception of the symphonic
poem "Lamia," which was not published until after his death.

[5] This episode formed part of the suite in its original form, but
was not printed until several years after the publication of the rest
of the music. The earlier portion, comprising four parts ("In a
Haunted Forest," "Summer Idyll," "The Shepherdess' Song," "Forest
Spirits"), was published in 1891, the supplement in 1893.

Meanwhile his prestige grew steadily. Each new work that he put forth
met with a remarkable measure of success, both among the general
public and at the hands of many not over-complacent critical
appraisers. On January 10, 1890, his "Lancelot and Elaine" was played
at a Boston Symphony concert under Mr. Nikisch. In September, 1891,
his orchestral suite in A-minor (op. 42) was performed for the first
time at the Worcester Festival, and a month later it was played in
Boston at a Symphony concert under Mr. Nikisch. In November of the
same year the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, under Bernhard Listemann,
performed for the first time, at the Tremont Theatre, his "Roland"
pieces, "The Saracens" and "The Lovely Aldâ." On the following
day--November 6, 1891--he gave his first piano recital, playing, in
addition to pieces by Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Templeton Strong, P.
Geisler, Alabieff, and Liszt, his own "Witches' Dance," "Shadow Dance"
(op. 39), "The Eagle," the Étude in F-sharp (op. 36), the Prelude from
the first suite, and the fourth of the "Idyls" after Goethe. He
followed this with a second recital in January, 1892, at which he
played, among other things, the "Winter," "Moonshine," and "The
Brook," from the "Four Little Poems" (op. 32). Discussing the first of
these recitals, Mr. Philip Hale (in the _Boston Post_) wrote these
words, which have a larger application than their reference to
MacDowell: "No doubt, as a composer, he has studied and mastered form
and knows its value; but he prefers suggestions and hints and dream
pictures and sleep-chasings to all attempts to be original in an
approved and conventional fashion.... They [his compositions] are
interesting, and more than that: they are extremely characteristic in
harmonic colouring. Their size has nothing to do with their merits. A
few lines by Gautier stuffed with prismatic words and yet as vague as
mist-wreaths may in artistic worth surpass whole cantos of more famous
poets; and Mr. MacDowell has Gautier's sense of colour and knowledge
of the power of suggestion." His performance "was worthy of the
warmest praise ... seeing gorgeous or delicate colours and hearing the
voices of orchestral instruments, it is no wonder that Mr. MacDowell
is a pianist of rare fascination." On January 28, 1893, the "Hamlet
and Ophelia" was played, for the first time in Boston, by the Symphony
Orchestra under Mr. Nikisch; but a more important event was the first
performance[6] two months later of the "Sonata Tragica," which
MacDowell played at a Kneisel Quartet concert in Chickering Hall.
Concerning the sonata Mr. Apthorp wrote: "One feels genius in it
throughout--and we are perfectly aware that _genius_ is not a term to
be used lightly. The composer," he added, "played it superbly,
magnificently." MacDowell achieved one of the conspicuous triumphs of
his career on December 14, 1894, when he played his second concerto
with the Philharmonic Society of New York, under the direction of
Anton Seidl. He won on this occasion, recorded Mr. Finck in the
_Evening Post_, "a success, both as pianist and composer, such as no
American musician has ever won before a metropolitan concert audience.
A Philharmonic audience can be cold when it does not like a piece or a
player; but Mr. MacDowell ... had an ovation such as is accorded only
to a popular prima donna at the opera. Again and again he had to get
up and bow after every movement of his concerto; again and again was
he recalled at the close ... For once a prophet has had great honour
in his own country ... He played with that splendid kind of virtuosity
which makes one forget the technique." Concerning the concerto, Mr.
W.J. Henderson wrote (in the _Times_) that it was difficult to speak
of it "in terms of judicial calmness, for it is made of the stuff that
calls for enthusiasm. There need be no hesitation," he continued, "in
saying that Mr. MacDowell in this work fairly claims the position of
an American master. We may have no distinctive school of music, but
here is one young man who has placed himself on a level with the men
owned by the world. This D-minor concerto is a strong, wholesome,
beautiful work of art, vital with imagination, and made with masterly
skill." And Mr. James Huneker observed that "it easily ranks with any
modern work in this form. Dramatic in feeling, moulded largely, and
its themes musically eloquent, it sounds a model of its kind--the kind
which Johannes Brahms gave the world over thirty years ago in his
D-minor concerto." In March of the following year MacDowell gave two
piano recitals in the Madison Square Garden Concert Hall, New York,
playing, beside a number of his smaller pieces, his "Tragica" sonata,
which made, if anything, an even profounder impression than it had
made in Boston two years before. Probably the most signal of the
honours that came to him at this time was paid him when the Boston
Symphony Orchestra placed both his "Indian" suite and his first
concerto on the programme of its New York concert on January 23, 1896,
at the Metropolitan Opera House.

[6] A single movement of the "Sonata Tragica," the third, was played
by MacDowell in Boston on March 18, 1892, at the last of the three
recitals which he gave in that season at Chickering Hall.

In the spring of 1896 it was determined to found a department of music
at Columbia University, New York. This was made possible by a fund of
$150,000 given to the trustees by Mrs. Elizabeth Mary Ludow, with the
proviso that the income was to be applied in such ways as should "tend
more effectually to elevate the standard of musical instruction in the
United States, and to afford the most favourable opportunity for
acquiring musical instruction of the highest order." In May of that
year the professorship was offered to MacDowell, the committee who had
the appointment in charge announcing the consensus of their opinion to
be that he was "the greatest musical genius America has produced."
MacDowell, though he valued greatly the honour of his selection,
considered anxiously the advisability of accepting the post. He now
had more pupils than he could take, and his pecuniary circumstances
would not be improved by the change, save that a settled income would
be assured to him. This was of course a tempting prospect; on the
other hand, the task of organizing _de novo_ a new department in a
large university, and the curtailed freedom which the position would
necessitate, made him hesitate. But the assurance of an income free
from precariousness finally decided him in favour of acceptance; and
in the following autumn he moved from Boston to New York, and began
his duties at Columbia.

That he undertook his labours there, from the start, in no casual or
perfunctory spirit, is made clear by the bare record of his activity.
For the first two years of his incumbency he had no assistant, carrying
all the work of his department on his own shoulders. He devoted from
eight to ten hours a week to lectures and class-work; and this
represented but a small proportion of the time and labour expended in
establishing the new department. The aim of the instruction was to be
twofold. "First, to teach music scientifically and technically, with a
view to training musicians who shall be competent to teach and to
compose. Second, to treat music historically and aesthetically as an
element of liberal culture." This plan involved five courses of study,
and a brief description of them will indicate the scope of the task
undertaken by MacDowell.

There was to be, first, a "general musical course," consisting of
lectures and private reading, with illustrations. This course, while
"outlining the purely technical side of music," aimed at giving "a
general idea of music from its historical and aesthetic side," and it
treated of "the beginnings of music, the Greek modes and their
evolution, systems of notation, the Troubadours and Minnesingers,
counterpoint and fugue, beginnings of opera, the clavecinists,
beginnings of programme music, harmony, beginnings of the modern
orchestra, evolution of forms, the symphony and opera up to
Beethoven." A second course (this was not begun until the following
year) treated "of the development of forms, the song, romanticism,
instrumental development, and the composers for pianoforte,
revolutionary influences, the virtuoso, modern orchestration and
symphonic forms, the music-drama, impressionism versus absolute music,
color _versus_ form, the relationship of music to the other arts,
musical criticism." A third course treated of "general theory,
dictation, harmony, comprising chords and their mutual significance,
altered chords, suspensions, modulation, imitation, analysis, and the
commencement of composition in the smaller forms." A fourth course
comprised, in the first term, counterpoint, canon, choral figuration,
and fugue; in the second term, "free counterpoint, canon and fugue,
analysis, commencement of composition in the larger forms." The fifth
course treated of "free composition, analysis, instrumentation,
symphonic forms," and the study of "all the orchestral and other
instruments, considered collectively and individually," together with
demonstrations of their "technique, possibilities, and limitations."

At the end of the second year an assistant was appointed--a gentleman
who had been a student in the department. To him were entrusted the
classes in rudimentary harmony, dictation, and chord-analysis: and to
this extent he relieved MacDowell until the latter had his sabbatical
vacation in 1902-03; he then took over the classes in strict
counterpoint; but all the more advanced courses were discontinued
until MacDowell's return. Even with an assistant, however, MacDowell
found his labours very far from being light. In his third year
(1898-99) he still gave five courses of two hours a week each, with
the exception of a single one-hour course. For these no less than
eighty-six students were registered; and in the following year,
fifty-two students were registered in one of the courses. In 1901-02
he gave six courses: a general course in musical culture, for which he
had thirty-seven students; an advanced course in musical culture, for
which he had fourteen students; a course in counterpoint, twelve
students; in orchestration, twelve students; in practical composition,
thirteen students; in free compositions, two students. This continued
to be, in general, his work until he resigned in 1904. To these
labours he added the appalling drudgery of correcting examination
books and exercises--a task which he performed with unflagging
patience and invariable thoroughness. Some of his friends remember
seeing him at this particular labour, and they recall "the weary,
tired, though interested face; the patient trying-over and
annotating." In addition to his regular duties, he devoted every
Sunday morning to receiving students in the more advanced courses who
were invited to come to him for help in their composition and piano
work. He was, as his friend Hamlin Garland has said, "temperate in all
things but work--in that he was hopelessly prodigal."

These facts are worth stating in detail; for it has been said that
MacDowell had no drudgery to perform at Columbia; that he had few
students, and that the burden of the teaching work was borne by his
assistant. The impression has gone abroad that he had little didactic
capacity, that he was disinclined toward and disqualified for
methodical work. It cannot, of course, be said that his inclinations
tended irresistibly toward pedagogy, or that he loved routine. Yet
that he had uncommon gifts as a teacher, that he was singularly
methodical in his manner of work, are facts that are beyond question.
His students have testified to the strikingly suggestive and
illuminating manner in which his instruction was imparted. His
lectures, which he wrote out in full, are remarkable for the amount of
sheer "brain-stuff" that was expended upon them. They are erudite,
accurate, and scholarly; they are original in thought, they are lucid
and stimulating in their presentation and interpretation of fact, and
they are often admirable in expression. They would reflect uncommon
credit upon a writer who had given his life to the critical,
historical, and philosophical study of music; as the work of a man who
had been primarily absorbed in making music, rather than in discussing
it, they are extraordinary.

As conveying an idea of MacDowell's methods in the class-room I cannot
do better than quote from a vivid account of him in this aspect
written by one of his pupils, Miss J.S. Watson:

"A crowd of noisy, expectant students sat in the lecture room
nervously eyeing the door and the clock by turns. The final
examination in course I of the Department of Music was in progress in
the back room, the door of which opened at intervals as one pupil came
out and another went in. The examination was oral and private, and
when the door closed behind me Professor MacDowell, who was standing
at the open window, turned with a smile and motioned me toward a
chair. In a pedagogic sense it was not a regular examination. There
was something beautifully human in the way the professor turned the
traditional stiff and starched catechism into a delightfully informal
chat, in which the faburden, the Netherland School, early notation,
the great clavichord players, suites and sonatas, formed the main
topics. The questions were put in such an easy, charming way that I
forgot to be frightened; forgot everything but the man who walked
rapidly about the room with his hands in his pockets and his head
tipped slightly to one side; who talked animatedly and looked intently
at the floor; but the explanations and suggestions were meant for me.
When I tripped upon the beginning of notation for instruments, he
looked up quickly and said, 'Better look that up again; that's

"At the lectures Professor MacDowell's aim had been to emphasise those
things that had served to mark the bright spots in the growth and
advancement of music as an intelligible language. How well I recall my
impression on the occasion of my first visit to the lectures, and
afterwards! There was no evidence of an æsthetic side to the equipment
of the lecture room. At the end it was vast and glaringly white, and
except for an upright piano and a few chairs placed near the
lecturer's table the room was empty. Ten or twelve undergraduates,
youths of eighteen or twenty, and twenty or more special students and
auditors, chiefly women, were gathered here. The first lectures,
treating of the archaic beginnings of music, might have easily fallen
into a business-like recital of dates, but Professor MacDowell never
sank into the passionless routine of lecture giving. His were not the
pedantic discourses students link most often to university chairs.
They were beautifully illuminating talks, delivered with so much
freedom and such a rush of enthusiasm that one felt that the hour
never held all that wanted to be said, and the abundant knowledge, in
its longing to get out, kept spilling over into the to-morrows.

"His ideas were not tied up in a manuscript, nor doled out from notes.
They came untrammelled from a wonderfully versatile mind, and were
illustrated with countless musical quotations and interlined with a
wealth of literary and historical references. There was no regular
textbook; some students carried a Rockstro or a Hunt, but the majority
depended upon the references made during the lectures. These were
numerous, and gave a broad view of this speculative period in musical

"Music was brought from behind the centuries and spread before us like
a huge map. Whatever meaning lay hidden under the musical theories of
the ancients was explained in a clear and conscientious way. Short
decisive sentences swept into every obscure corner, and from all sides
we saw reflected Professor MacDowell's resolute spirit and sincerity
of purpose....

"To illustrate [a point in connection with a discussion of popular
music], Professor MacDowell went to the piano to play 'A Hot Time in
the Old Town To-night.' After playing a few measures, he turned
abruptly toward the class, saying: 'Why, that isn't it! What is it I
am playing?' Someone answered 'Annie Rooney.' Facing us with a droll
smile, he asked if there was anyone present who could play 'A Hot
Time.' A dozen boys rushed forward and the one who gained the chair
dashed it off with the abandon of a four weeks' old freshman ...

"The lectures on musical form were distinguished by many brilliant
demonstrations of MacDowell's genius. The ease and rapidity with which
he flashed his thoughts upon the blackboard were both inspiring and
bewildering to the student who must grope his way through notes before
he can reach an idea. If any were unwise enough to stop even for a
moment to catch these spontaneous thoughts as they flew along the
staff, they were very apt upon looking up to see them vanishing like
phantoms in a cloud of white chalk. At the same time he made
sarabandes, gavottes, minuets, chaconnes, passepieds, gigues,
polonaises and rondos dance across the piano in quick succession; and
his comments were as spirited as his playing.

"Professor MacDowell's criticisms were clear and forceful, and filled
with many surprising and humorous touches. Of Bach he said, 'Bach
spoke in close, scientific, contrapuntal language. He was as emotional
and romantic as Chopin, Wagner or Tchaikovsky; his emotion was
expressed in the language of his time. Young women who say they adore
Bach play him like a sum in mathematics. They find a grim pleasure in
it, like biting on a sore tooth.'

"He never approached the piano like a conqueror. He had a nervous way
of saying that he didn't know whether things would go, because he had
had no time to practise. After an apologetic little preamble, he would
sit down and play these rococo bits of trailing sound with fingers
dipped in lightning, fingers that flashed over the keys in perfect
evenness and with perfect sureness.

"The closing lectures were in reality delightfully informal concerts
for which the class began to assemble as early as 8.30 in the morning.
By 9.30 every student would be in his chair, which he had dragged as
near to the piano as the early suburbanite would let him. Someone at
the window would say, 'Here he comes!' and, entering the room with a
huge bundle of music under one arm and his hat in his hand, MacDowell
would deposit them on the piano and turn to us with his gracious
smile. Then, instead of sitting down, he would continue to walk up and
down the room, his thoughts following, apparently, the pace set by his
energetic steps. He had an abundant word supply and his short, terse
sentences were easy to follow."

This is not the picture of a man who was unqualified for his task, or
indifferent, rebellious, or inept in its performance; it is the
picture of a man of vital and electric temperament, with almost a
genius--certainly with an extraordinary gift--for teaching. His ideals
were lofty; he dreamed of a relationship between university
instruction and a liberal public culture which was not to be realised
in his time. He was anything but complacent; had he been less
intolerant in his hatred of unintelligent and indolent thought on the
subjects that were near his heart, his way would have been made far

The results of his labours at the university, he finally came to feel,
did not warrant the expenditure of the vitality and time that he was
devoting to them. He was, in a sense, an anachronism in the position
in which he found himself. Both in his ideals and in his plans for
bringing about their fulfilment he had reached beyond his day. The
field was not yet ripe for his best efforts. It became clear to him
that he could not make his point of view operative in what he
conceived as the need for a reformation of conditions affecting his
work; and on January 18, 1904, after long and anxious deliberation and
discussion with his wife, he tendered his resignation as head of the
department. His attitude in the matter was grievously misunderstood
and misrepresented at the time, to his poignant distress and
harassment. The iron entered deeply into his soul: it was the
forerunner of tragedy.

When he took up his work at Columbia his activity as a concert pianist
had, of course, to be virtually suspended. With the exception of two
short tours of a few weeks' each, he gave up his public appearances
altogether until the year of his sabbatical vacation (1902-03). In
December, 1902, he went on an extensive concert tour, which took him
as far west as San Francisco and occupied all of that winter. The
following spring and summer were spent Abroad, in England and on the
Continent. In London he appeared in concert, playing his second
concerto with the Philharmonic Society on May 14. He returned to
America in October, and resumed his work at Columbia.

Meanwhile his composition had continued uninterruptedly. Indeed, the
eight years during which he held his Columbia professorship were, in a
creative sense, the most important of his life; for to this period
belong the "Sea Pieces" (op. 55), the two superb sonatas, the "Norse"
(op. 57) and the "Keltic" (op. 59), and the best of his songs--the
four of op. 56 ("Long Ago," "The Swan Bent Low to the Lily," "A Maid
Sings Light," "As the Gloaming Shadows Creep"), and the three of op.
58 ("Constancy," "Sunrise," "Merry Maiden Spring"): a product which
contains the finest flower of his inspiration, the quintessence of
his art.[7] He wrote also during these years the three songs of op.
60 ("Tyrant Love," "Fair Springtide," "To the Golden Rod"); the
"Fireside Tales" (op. 61); the "New England Idyls" (op. 62); numerous
part-songs, transcriptions, arrangements; and, finally, the greater
part of a suite for string orchestra which he never finished to his
satisfaction: in fact, nearly one quarter of the bulk of his entire
work was composed during these eight years. During this period,
moreover, was published all of the music hitherto unprinted which he
cared to preserve.

[7] The only one of his works of equal calibre which does not,
strictly speaking, belong to this period is the set of "Woodland
Sketches"; these were composed during the last part of his stay in
Boston, and were published in the year (1896) of his removal to New

He had bought in 1896 a piece of property near the town of Peterboro,
in southern New Hampshire, consisting of a small farmhouse, some
out-buildings, fifteen acres of arable land, and about fifty acres of
forest. The buildings he consolidated and made over into a rambling
and comfortable dwelling-house; and in this rural "asyl" (as Wagner
would have called it), surrounded by the woods and hills that he
loved, he spent his summers from then until the end of his life. There
most of his later music was written, in a small log cabin which he
built, in the heart of the woods, for use as a workshop. Thus his
summers were devoted to composition, and his winters to the arduous
though absorbing labours of his professorship; in addition, he taught
in private a few classes for which he made time in that portion of the
day which was not taken up by his sessions at the university. During
his first two winters in New York he also served as conductor of the
Mendelssohn Glee Club, and he was for a time president of the
Manuscript Society, an association of American composers. Altogether,
it was a scheme of living which permitted him virtually no opportunity
for the rest and idleness which he imperatively needed.

In New York the MacDowells' home was, during the first year, a house
in 88th Street, near Riverside Drive. Later they lived at the Majestic
Hotel; but during most of the Columbia years--from 1898 till
1902--they occupied an apartment at 96th Street and Central Park West.
After their return from the sabbatical vacation abroad they lived for
a year at the Westminster Hotel in Irving Place, and for a year in an
apartment house on upper Seventh Avenue, near Central Park. When that
was sold and torn down they returned to the Westminster; and there
MacDowell's last days were spent.

After he left Columbia in 1904, he continued his private piano classes
(at some of which he gave free tuition to poor students in whose
talent he had confidence). He should have rested--should have ceased
both his teaching and his composing; for he was in a threatening
condition. Had he spent a year in a sanitarium, or had he stopped all
work completely and taken even a brief vacation, he might have averted
the collapse which was to come. In the spring of 1905 he began to
manifest alarming signs of nervous exhaustion. A summer in Peterboro
brought no improvement. That autumn his ailment was seen to be far
more deeply seated than had been supposed. There were indications of
an obscure brain lesion, baffling but sinister. Then began a very
gradual, progressive, and infinitely pathetic decline--the slow
beginning of the end. He suffered little pain, and until the last
months he preserved in an astonishing degree his physical well-being.
It was clear almost from the start that he was beyond the aid of
medical science, even the boldest and most expert. A disintegration of
the brain-tissues had begun--an affection to which specialists
hesitated to give a precise name, but which they recognized as
incurable. His mind became as that of a little child. He sat quietly,
day after day, in a chair by a window, smiling patiently from time to
time at those about him, turning the pages of a book of fairy tales
that seemed to give him a definite pleasure, and greeting with a
fugitive gleam of recognition certain of his more intimate friends.
Toward the last his physical condition became burdensome, and he sank
rapidly. At nine o'clock on the evening of January 23, 1908, in the
beginning of his forty-seventh year, he died at the Westminster Hotel,
New York, in the presence of the heroic woman who for almost a quarter
of a century had been his devoted companion, counsellor, helpmate, and
friend. After such simple services as would have pleased him, held at
St. George's Episcopal Church, on January 25, his body was taken to
Peterboro; and on the following day, a Sunday, he was buried in the
sight of many of his neighbours, who had followed in procession, on
foot, the passage of the body through the snow-covered lane from the
village. His grave is on an open hill-top, commanding one of the
spacious and beautiful views that he had loved. On a bronze tablet are
these lines of his own, which he had devised as a motto for his "From
a Log Cabin," the last music that he wrote:

  "A house of dreams untold,
  It looks out over the whispering tree-tops
  And faces the setting sun."



In his personal intercourse with the world, MacDowell, like so many
sensitive and gifted men, had the misfortune to give very often a
wholly false account of himself. In reality a man of singularly
lovable personality, and to his intimates a winning and delightful
companion, he lacked utterly the social gift, that capacity for ready
and tactful address which, even for men of gifts, is not without its
uses. It was a deficiency (if a deficiency it is) which undoubtedly
cost him much in a material sense. Had he possessed this serviceable
and lubricant quality it would often have helpfully smoothed his path.
For those who could penetrate behind the embarrassed and painful
reticence that was for him both an impediment and an unconscious
shield, he gave lavishly of the gifts of temperament and spirit which
were his; even that lack of ready address, of social adaptability and
adjustment, which it is possible to deplore in him, was, for those who
knew him and valued him, a not uncertain element of charm: for it was
akin to the shyness, the absence of assertiveness, the entirely
genuine modesty, which were of his dominant traits. Yet in his contact
with the outer world this incurable shyness sometimes, as I have said,
led him into giving a grotesquely untrue impression of himself: he was
at times _gauche_, blunt, awkwardly infelicitous in speech or silence,
when he would have wished, as he knew perfectly how, to be
considerate, gentle, sympathetic, responsive. On the other hand, his
shyness and reticence were seemingly contradicted by a downright
bluntness, a deliberate frankness in matters of opinion in which his
convictions were involved; for his views were most positively held and
his convictions were often passionate in intensity, and he declared
them, upon occasion, with an utter absence of diplomacy, compromise,
or equivocation; with a superb but sometimes calamitous disregard of
his own interests.

[Illustration: MACDOWELL IN 1892]

Confident and positive to a fault in his adherence to and expression
of his principles, he was as morbidly dubious concerning his own
performances as he was uneasy under praise. He was tortured by doubts
of the value of each new work that he completed, after the flush and
ardour generated in its actual expression had passed; and he listened
to open praise of it in evident discomfort. I have a memory of him on
a certain occasion in a private house following a recital at which he
had played, almost for the first time, his then newly finished
"Keltic" Sonata. Standing in the center of a crowded room, surrounded
by enthusiastically effusive strangers who were voluble--and not
overpenetrating--in their expressions of appreciation, he presented a
picture of unhappiness, of mingled helplessness and discomfort, which
was almost pathetic in its genuineness of woe. I was standing near
him, and during a momentary lull in the amiable siege of which he was
the distressed object, he whispered tragically to me: "Can't we get
out of this?--Do you know the way to the back door?" I said I did, and
led him through an inconspicuous doorway into a comparatively deserted
corridor behind the staircase. I procured for him, through the
strategic employment of a passing servant, something to eat, and we
staid in concealment there until the function had come to an end, and
his wife had begun to search for him. He was quite happy, consuming
his salad and beer behind the stairs and telling me in detail his
conception of certain of the figures of Celtic mythology which he had
had in mind while composing his sonata.

To visitors at his house in Peterboro, he said one morning, on leaving
them, "I am going to the cabin to write some of my rotten melodies!"
He was sincerely distrustful concerning the worth of any composition
which he had finished; especially so, of course, concerning his more
youthful performances. He once sent a frantic telegram to Teresa
Carreño, upon learning from an announcement that she was to play his
early Concert Étude (op. 36) for the first time: "Don't put that
dreadful thing on your programme"; and for certain of his more popular
and hackneyed pieces, as the "Hexentanz" and the much-mauled and
over-sentimental song, "Thy Beaming Eyes," he had a detestation that
was amusing in its virulence. He regretted at times that his earlier
orchestral works--"Hamlet and Ophelia" and "Lancelot and Elaine"--had
been published; and he was invariably tormented by questionings and
misgivings after he had committed even his ripest work to his
publisher. Only the assurances of his wise and devoted wife at times
prevented him from recalling a completed work. Yet he was always
touched, delighted, and genuinely cheered by what he felt to be
sincere and thoughtful praise. To a writer who had published an
admiring article concerning some of his later music he wrote:

    "MY DEAR MR.----:

    "Your article was forwarded to me after all. I wish to thank you
    for the warm-hearted and sympathetic enthusiasm which prompted
    your writing it. While my outgivings have always been sincere, I
    feel only too often their inadequacy to express my ideals; thus
    what you speak of as accomplishment I fear is often but attempt.
    Certainly your sympathy for my aims is most welcome and precious
    to me, and I thank you again most heartily."

Those who knew the man only through his music have thought of him as
wholly a dreamer and a recluse, a poet brooding in detachment, and
unfriendly to the pedestrian and homely things of the world. Nothing
could be further from the truth. He was overflowingly human, notably
full-blooded. On his "farm" (as he called it) at Peterboro he lived,
when he was not composing, a robust and vigorous outdoor life. He was
an ardent sportsman, and he spent much of his time in the woods and
fields, fishing, riding, walking, hunting. He had a special relish for
gardening and for photography, and he liked to undertake laborious
jobs in carpentry, at which he was quite deft. That his feeling for
the things of the natural world was acutely sensitive and coloured by
imagination and emotion is abundantly evidenced in his music. He was
fond of taking long, leisurely drives and rides through the rich and
varied hill country about Peterboro, and many of the impressions that
were then garnered and stored have found issue in some of his most
intimate and affecting music--as in the "Woodland Sketches" and "New
England Idyls." He had an odd, naive tenderness for growing things and
for the creatures of the woods: it distressed him to have his wife
water some of the flowers in the garden without watering them all; and
though an excellent shot, he never brought down game without a
pang--it used to be said at Peterboro that for this reason he only
"pretended to hunt," despite his expertness as a marksman.

In his intellectual interests and equipment he presented a striking
contrast to the brainlessness of the average musician. His tastes were
singularly varied and catholic. An omnivorous reader of poetry, an
inquisitive delver in the byways of mediæval literature, an authority
in mythological detail, he was at the same time keenly interested in
contemporary affairs. He read, and discussed with eagerness and
acumen, scientific, economic, and historical deliverances; and he
enjoyed books of travel, biographies, dramatic literature. Mark Twain
he adored, and delighted to quote, and almost to the end of his life
he read with inexhaustible pleasure Joel Chandler Harris's "Uncle
Remus." In the later years of his activity he fell captive to the new
and unaccustomed music of Fiona Macleod's exquisite prose and verse;
he wanted to dedicate his "New England Idyls" to the author of
"Pharais" and "From the Hills of Dream," and wrote for her permission;
but the identity of the mysterious author was then jealously guarded,
and his letter must have gone astray; for it was never answered.

His erudition was extraordinary. He exemplified in a marked degree the
truth that the typical modern music-maker touches hands with the whole
body of culture and the humanities in a sense which would have been
simply incredible to Mozart or Schubert. He was, intellectually, one
of the most fully and brilliantly equipped composers in the history of
musical art. He had read widely and curiously in many literatures, and
the knowledge which he had acquired he applied to the elucidation of
aesthetic and philosophical problems touching the theory and practice
of music. He had meditated deeply concerning the art of which he was
always a tireless student--had come to conclusions concerning its
actual and assumed records, its tendencies, its potentialities. He was
a vigorous and original critic, and he had shrewd, cogent, and
clear-cut reasons for the particular views at which he had arrived;
whether one could always agree with them or not, they invariably
commanded respect. Yet his erudition was seldom displayed. One came
upon it unexpectedly in conversation with him, through the accident of
some reference or the discussion of some disputed point of fact.

In his appearance MacDowell suggested a fusion of Scandinavian and
American types. His eyes, of a light and brilliant blue, were perhaps
his most salient feature. They betrayed his inextinguishable humour.
When he was amused--and he was seldom, in conversation, grave for
long--they lit up with an extraordinary animation; he had an
unconscious trick of blinking them rapidly once or twice, with the
effect of a fugitive twinkle, which was oddly infectious. His laugh,
too, was communicative; he did not often laugh aloud; his enjoyment
found vent in a low, rich chuckle, which, with the lighting up of his
eyes, was wholly and immediately irresistible. The large head, the
strong, rather boyish face, with its singular mobility and often
sweetness of expression, the bright, vital eyes, set wide apart, the
abundant (though not long), dark hair tinged with grey, the white
skin, the sensitive mouth, rather large and full-lipped, the strong
jaws, the sturdy and athletic build,--he was somewhat above medium
height, with broad shoulders, powerful arms, and large, muscular,
finely shaped hands,--his general air of physical soundness and
vigour: all these combined to form an outer personality that was
strongly attractive. His movements were quick and decisive. To
strangers, even when he felt at ease, his manner was diffident, yet of
an indescribable, almost childlike, simplicity and charm. His voice in
speaking was low-pitched and subdued, like his laugh; in conversation,
when he was entirely himself, he could be brilliantly effective and
witty, and his mirth-loving propensities were irrepressible.

His sense of humour, which was of true Celtic richness, was fluent and
inexhaustible. To an admirer who had affirmed in print that certain
imaginative felicities in some of the verse which he wrote for his
songs recalled at moments the phrasing of Whitman and Shakespeare, he

    "I will confide in you that if, in the next world, I should happen
    upon the wraiths of Shakespeare, Whitman, and Co., I would light
    out without delay. Good heavens! I blush at the thought of it! A
    header through a cloud would be the only thing.--Seriously, I was
    deeply touched by your praise and wish I were more worthy."

His pupil and friend, Mr. W.H. Humiston, recalls that, in going over
MacDowell's sketchbooks and manuscripts after his death, he found that
many of the manuscripts had been rewritten several times: "I would
find a movement begun and continued for half a page, then it would be
broken off suddenly, and a remark like this written at the end:--'Hand
organ to the rescue!'"

I told him once that I had first heard his "To a Wild Rose" played by
a high-school girl, on a high-school piano, at a high-school
graduation festivity. "Well," he remarked, with his sudden
illumination, "I suppose she pulled it up by the roots!" Some one sent
him at about this time, relates Mr. Humiston, a programme of an organ
recital which contained this same "Wild Rose" piece. "He was not
pleased with the idea, having in mind the expressionless organ of a
dozen years ago when only a small portion of most organs was enclosed
in a swell-box. Doubtless thinking also of a style of organ
performance which plays Schumann's _Träumerei_ on the great organ
diapasons, he said it made him think of a hippopotamus wearing a
clover leaf in his mouth."

A member of one of his classes at Columbia, finding some unoccupied
space on the page of his book after finishing his exercise, filled up
the space with rests, at the end of which he placed a double bar. When
his book was returned the page was covered with corrections--all
except these bars of rests, which were enclosed in a red line and
marked: "This is the only correct passage in the exercise."

He once observed in a lecture that "Bach differed in almost everything
from Handel, except that he was born the same year and was killed by
the same doctor."

He was often sarcastic; but his was a sarcasm without sting or
rancour. Bitterness, indeed, was one of the few normal attributes
which he did not possess. Mr. Humiston tells of lunching with him
unexpectedly at a restaurant one day, just after his resignation from
Columbia had been accepted. "We sat over our coffee and cigars until
nearly four o'clock, and among other things he talked of that [the
Columbia matter]. There was not a word of bitterness or reproach
toward anyone, but rather a deep feeling of disappointment that his
plans and ideals for the training and welfare of young artists should
have been so completely defeated."

In his methods of work he was, like most composers of first-rate
quality, at the mercy of his inspiration. He never composed at the
piano, in the ordinary meaning of the phrase. That is to say, he never
sat down to the piano with the idea that he wanted to compose a song
or a piano piece. But sometime, when he might be improvising, as he
was fond of doing when alone, a theme, an idea, might come to him, and
almost before he knew it he had sketched something in a rudimentary
form. He had a fancy that the technique of composition suffered as
much as that of the piano if it was allowed to go for weeks and months
without exercise. The constant work and excitement that his winters in
Boston and New York involved, made it necessary for him to let days
and weeks slip by with no creative work accomplished. Yet he always
tried to write each day a few bars of music. Often in this way he
evolved a theme for which he afterward found a use. In looking over a
sketch-book in the summer he would run across something he liked, and
the idea would expand into a matured work.

His sketch-books are full of all kinds of random and fugitive
material--half-finished fugues, canons, piano pieces, songs, single
themes. Undoubtedly this habit of work had its value when he came to
the leisurely months of summer; for he did not then have to go through
a period of technical "warming up." There were many days when he did
not write a note, but he always intended to, and usually did. When he
was absorbed in a particular composition he kept at it, almost night
and day, save for the hours he always tried to spend in the open air,
and two hours in the evening when, no matter how late it might be, he
sat quietly with his wife, reading or talking, smoking, and, in
earlier days, enjoying a glass of beer and some food. His love of
reading was a godsend to him when the waters were more than usually
troubled and his brain was in a whirl.

In the actual work of composition he was elaborately meticulous--not
often to the extent of changing an original plan, but in minor
details; he never ceased working on a score until the music was out of
his hands, or entirely put aside. Sometimes he tried over a few
measures on the piano as many as fifty times, changing the value or
significance of a note; as a result, his piano writing is almost
always "pianistic." In one respect he was sometimes careless: in the
noting of the expression marks. By the time he arrived at that duty he
was usually tired out. For this reason, much in his printed music is
marked differently from the way he actually played it in concert. He
never, in performance, changed a note, save in a few of the earlier
pieces; but in details of expression he often departed widely from the
printed directions.

He was always profoundly absorbed when at work, though not to the
extent of being able to compose amid noise or disturbance. He needed
to isolate himself as much as possible; although, when it could not be
avoided, he contrived to work effectively under obstructive
conditions; the Largo of the "Sonata Tragica," for example, was
written in Boston when he was harassed by drudgery and care. During
the earlier days at Peterboro he composed in a music room which was
joined to the main body of the house by a covered passage; in this way
he could hear nothing of the household workings, and was unaware of
the chance caller. No one was ever allowed to intrude upon him, save
his wife. Yet certain outside noises were still apparent; so the log
cabin in the woods was built. There he used to go nearly every
morning, coming home when he felt disposed, and usually going to the
golf grounds for a game before dinner, which he always had at night.
He kept a piano in the music room as well as at the log cabin; so if
he felt like working in the evening he could do so; and when he was
especially engrossed he often worked into the small hours. His
unselfishness made it easy for his wife, when she deemed a change and
rest essential, to make the excuse that _she_ needed it. After a
preliminary protest he would usually give in, and they would leave
Peterboro for a few days' excursion.

He knew discouragement in an extreme form. Many weeks, even months,
had to pass before his discontent over the last child of his
imagination would become normal. Particularly was this so with the
larger works; though each one was started in a fever of inspiration, a
longing to reduce to actual form the impossible. He was always
disheartened when a work was finished, but he was too sane in his
judgment not to have moments when he could estimate fairly the quality
of what he had written. But those were rare moments; as a rule, it was
in his future music that he was always going to do his "really good
work," and he longed ardently for leisure and freedom from care, so
that, as he once bitterly said, he would not have to press into a
small piano piece material enough to make a movement of a symphony.

His preferences in the matter of his own music were not very definite.
In 1903, when he had finished all that he was to write, he expressed a
preference for the "Dirge" from the "Indian" suite above anything that
he had composed. "Of all my music," he confessed at this time, "the
'Dirge' in the 'Indian' suite pleases me most. It affects me deeply
and did when I was writing it. In it an Indian woman laments the death
of her son; but to me, as I wrote it, it seemed to express a
world-sorrow rather than a particularised grief." His estimate of the
value of the music has, naturally, no extraordinary importance; but my
conviction is that, in this instance, his judgment was correct. As to
the sonatas, he cared most for the "Keltic"; after that, for the
"Eroica," as a whole; though I doubt whether there was anything in the
two that he cared for quite as he did for the Largo in the "Tragica"
and certain parts of the "Norse." He felt concerning the "Keltic" that
there was hardly a bar in it that he wanted changed, that he had
scarcely ever written any thing so rounded, so complete, in which the
joining was so invisible. He played it _con amore_, and it grew to be
part of himself as no other of his works ever did. Technically, it was
never hard for him, whereas he found the "Eroica" exhausting,
physically and mentally.

Of the smaller works he preferred the "Sea Pieces," as a whole, above
all the others; yet there were single things in each of the other sets
for which he cared perhaps as much. Of the "Sea Pieces" those he liked
best were: "To the Sea," "From the Depths," "In Mid-Ocean"; of the
"Fireside Tales": the "Haunted House," "Salamander," "'Brer Rabbit";
and he had a tender feeling for "In a German Forest," which always
seemed to bring back the Frankfort days to his memory. Of the "New
England Idyls," his favorites were: "In Deep Woods," "Mid-Winter,"
"From a Log Cabin."

In his composition he was growing away from piano work,--he felt that
the future must mean larger, probably orchestral, forms, for him, and
his dream of an ultimate leisure was a dream for which his friends can
be thankful. He did not end with despair at his heart that the
distracting work, the yearly drudgery, were to go on forever.

His preferences in music were governed by the independence which
characterised his intellectual judgments. Of the moderns, Wagner was
his god; for Liszt he had an unbounded admiration, though he detected
the showman, the mere juggler, in him; Tchaikovsky stirred
him mightily; Brahms did not as a rule give him pleasure, though
certain of that master's more fertile moments compelled his
appreciation. Grieg he delighted in. To him he dedicated both his
"Norse" and "Keltic" sonatas. In response to his request for
permission to inscribe the first of these to his eminent contemporary,
he received from Grieg the following delectable letter--one of the
Norwegian's very few attempts at English composition (I quote it
verbatim; the spelling is Grieg's):--

    COPENHAGEN, 26/10/99.
    Hotel King of Denmark.


    Will you remit me in bad English to express my best thanks for
    your kind letter and for the sympathi you feel for my music. Of
    course it will be a great honor and pleasure for me to accept your

    Some years ago I thought it possible to shake hands with you in
    your own country. But unfortunately my delicat health does not
    seem to agree. At all events, if we are not to meet, I am glad to
    read in the papers of your artistical success in Amerika.

    With my best wishes,

    I am, dear Sir,

    Yours very truly,



I may quote also, in this place, because of its unusual interest, a
letter written (in German) by Grieg to Mrs. MacDowell when he learned
of her husband's collapse:--

    December 14, 1905.


    The news of MacDowell's serious illness has deeply affected me.
    Permit me therefore to express to you my own and my wife's
    sincerest sympathy for you. I am a great admirer of MacDowell's
    Muse, and would regard it as a severe blow if his best creative
    period should be so hastily broken off. From all that I hear of
    your husband, his qualities as a man are as remarkable as his
    qualities as an artist. He is a complete Personality, with an
    unusually sympathetic and sensitive nervous system. Such a
    temperament gives one the capacity not only for moods of the
    highest transport, but for an unspeakable sorrow tenfold more
    profound. This is the unsolvable riddle. An artist so ideally
    endowed [_ein so ideal angelegter Künstler_] as MacDowell must ask
    himself: Why have I received from nature this delicately strung
    lyre, if I were better off without it? So unmerciful is Life that
    every artist must ask himself this question. The only consolation
    is: Work--yes, even the severest labours. ... _But_: the artist is
    an optimist. Otherwise he would be no artist. He believes and
    hopes in the triumph of the good and the beautiful. He trusts in
    his lucky star till his last breath. And you, the wife of a highly
    gifted artist, will not and must not lose hope! In similar cases,
    happily, one often witnesses a seemingly inexplicable recovery. If
    it can give MacDowell a moment's cheer, say to him that he has in
    distant Norway a warm and understanding friend who feels for him,
    and wishes from his heart that for him, as for you, better times
    may soon come.

    With best greeting to you both,

    Your respectful


MacDowell's feeling in regard to Strauss, whom he considered to have
developed what he called the "suggestive" (delineative) power of music
at the expense of its finer potentialities, is indicated in a lecture
which he prepared on the subject of "Suggestion in Music." "'Thus
Spake Zarathustra,'" he wrote, "may be considered the apotheosis of
this power of suggestion in tonal colour, and in it I believe we can
see the tendency I allude to [the tendency "to elevate what should be
a means of adding power and intensity to musical speech, to the
importance of musical speech itself"]. It stuns by its glorious
magnificence of tonal texture. The suggestion, at the beginning, of
the rising sun, is a mighty example of the overwhelming power of
tone-colour. The upward sweep of the music to the highest regions of
light has something splendrous about it; and yet I remember once
hearing in London a song sung in the street at night that seemed to me
to contain a truer germ of music."--From which it will be seen that
there were limits to the aesthetic sympathy of even so liberal and
divining an appreciator as MacDowell.

The modern Frenchmen he knew scarcely at all. Some of d'Indy's earlier
music he had heard and admired: but that he would have cared for such
a score as Debussy's "La Mer" I very much doubt. I remember his
amusement over what he called the "queerness" of a sonata by the
Belgian Lekeu for violin and piano, which he had read or heard. It is
likely that he would have found little to attract him in the more
characteristic music of d'Indy, Debussy, and Ravel; his instincts and
temperament led him into a wholly different region of expression. He
was a prophet of modernity; but it was a modernity that he alone
exemplifies: it has no exact parallel.

Concerning the classics he had his own views. Of Bach he wrote that he
believed him to have accomplished his work as "one of the world's
mightiest tone-poets not by means of the contrapuntal methods of his
day, but in spite of them. The laws of canon and fugue are based upon
as prosaic a foundation as those of the Rondo and Sonata Form, and I
find it impossible to imagine their ever having been a spur, an
incentive, to poetic musical speech."

Of Mozart he wrote: "It is impossible to forget the fact that in his
piano works he was first and foremost a piano virtuoso, a child
prodigy: of whom filigree work (we cannot call this Orientalism, for
it was more or less of German pattern, traced from the _fioriture_ of
the Italian opera singer) was expected by the public for which his
sonatas were written.... We need freshness and sincerity in forming
our judgments of art.... If we read on one page of some history (every
history of music has such a page) that Mozart's sonatas are sublime;
that they far transcend anything written for the harpsichord or
clavichord by Haydn or his contemporaries, we are apt to echo the
saying ... But let us look the thing straight in the face: Mozart's
sonatas are compositions entirely unworthy of the author of 'The Magic
Flute' and 'Don Giovanni,' or of any composer with pretensions to more
than mediocre talent. They are written in a style of flashy
harpsichord virtuosity such as Liszt in his most despised moments
never descended to. Yet I am well aware that this statement would be
dismissed as either absurd or heretical, according to the point of
view of the particular objector."

Of Mendelssohn he said: "Mendelssohn professed to be an 'absolutist'
in music. As a matter of fact, he stands on the same ground that Liszt
and Berlioz did; for almost everything he wrote, even to the smallest
piano piece, he furnished with an explanatory title.... Formalist
though he was, his work often exhibits eccentricities of form--as, for
instance, in the Scotch Symphony, where, in the so-called 'exposition'
of the first movement, he throws in an extra little theme that laps
over his frame with a jaunty disregard of the rules that is
delightful.... His technic of piano writing was perfect; compared with
Beethoven's it was a revelation. He never committed the fault of mere
virtuoso writing, which is remarkable when we consider how strong a
temptation there must have been to do so. In his piano music can be
found the germs of most of the pianistic innovations that are usually
identified with other composers--for instance, the manner of
enveloping the melody with runs, the discovery of which has been
ascribed to Thalberg, but which we find in Mendelssohn's first
Prelude, written in 1833. The interlocking passages which have become
so prevalent in modern music we find in his compositions dating from

Of Schumann he said happily: "His music is not avowed programme-music;
neither is it, as was much of Schubert's, pure delight in beautiful
sound. It did not break through formalism by sheer violence of
emotion, as did Beethoven's: it represents the rhapsodical revery of
an inspired poet to whom no imaginative vagary seems strange or alien,
and who has the faculty of relating his visions, never attempting to
give them coherence, and unaware of their character until perhaps
when, awakened from his dream, he naïvely wonders what they may have
meant--you remember that he added titles to his music after it was
composed. He put his dreams in music and guessed their meaning

Of Liszt and Chopin: "To all of this new, strange music [the piano
music of the Romantics] Liszt and Chopin added the wonderful tracery
of Orientalism. The difference between these two is, that with Chopin
this tracery developed poetic thought as with a thin gauze; whereas
with Liszt [in his piano music] the embellishment itself made the
starting-point for almost a new art in tonal combination, the effects
of which one sees on every hand to-day. To realise its influence one
need only compare the easy mastery of the arabesque displayed in the
simplest piano piece of to-day with the awkward and gargoyle-like
figuration of Beethoven and his predecessors. We may justly attribute
this to Liszt rather than to Chopin, whose nocturne embellishments are
but first cousins to those of the Englishman, John Field."

Of Wagner: "His music-dramas, shorn of the fetters of the actual
spoken word, emancipated from the materialism of acting, painting, and
furniture, must be considered the greatest achievement in our art."

Concerning Form in music, he observed: "If by the word 'form' our
purists meant the most poignant expression of poetic thought in music,
if they meant by this term the art of arranging musical sounds so that
they constituted the most telling presentation of a musical idea, I
should have nothing to say. But as it is, the word in almost its
invariable use by theorists stands for what are called 'stoutly-built
periods,' 'subsidiary themes' and the like, a happy combination of
which in certain prescribed keys is supposed to constitute good form.
Such a principle, inherited from the necessities and fashions of the
dance, and changing from time to time, is surely not worthy of the
strange worship it has received. In their eagerness to press this
great revolutionist [Beethoven] into their own ranks in the fight of
narrow theory against expansion and progress, the most amusing
mistakes are constantly occurring. For example, the first movement of
this sonata [the so-called "Moonlight"]--which, as we know, is a poem
of profound sorrow and the most poignant resignation alternating with
despair--has, by some strange torturing, been cited as being in strict
sonata-form by one theorist (Harding: Novello's primer), is dubbed a
free fantasy by another (Matthews), and is described as being in
song-form by another: all of which is somewhat weakened by the dictum
of still another theorist that the music is absolutely formless! A
form of so doubtful an identity can surely lay small claim to any
serious intellectual value.... In our modern days we too often,
Procrustes-like, make our ideas to fit the forms. We put our guest,
the poetic thought, that comes to us like a homing bird from out of
the mystery of the blue sky--we put this confiding stranger
straightway into that iron bed: the 'sonata-form'--or perhaps even the
'third-rondo form,' for we have quite an assortment; and should the
idea survive, and grow, and become too large for the bed, and if we
have grown to love it too much to cut off its feet and thus _make_ it
fit (as did that old robber of Attica), why then we run the risk of
having some wiseacre say, as is said of Chopin: 'Yes--but he is weak
in sonata-form'! ... Form should be nothing more than a synonym for
_coherence_. No idea, whether great or small, can find utterance
without form; but that form will be inherent in the idea, and there
will be as many forms as there are adequately expressed ideas in the

Concerning programme-music he wrote at length. "In my opinion," he
says in one of his lectures, "the battle over what music can express
and what it cannot express has been carried on wrong lines. We are
always referred back to language as actually expressing an idea, when,
as a matter of fact, language expresses nothing but that which its
vital parallel means of expression, gesture and facial expression,
permit it to express. Words mean nothing whatsoever in themselves; the
same words in different languages mean wholly different things; for
written words are mere symbols, and no more express things or ideas
than any marks on paper would. Yet language is forever striving to
emulate music by actually expressing something, besides merely
symbolising it, and thus we have in poetry the coining of
onomatopoetic words--words that will bring the things they stand for
more vividly before our eyes and minds. Now music may express all that
words can express and much more, for it is the natural means of
expression for all animals, mankind included. If musical sounds were
accepted as symbols for things we would have another speech. It seems
strange to say that by means of music one could say the most
commonplace thing, as, for instance: 'I am going to take a walk'; yet
this is precisely what the Chinese have been doing for centuries. For
such things, however, our word-symbols do perfectly well, and such a
symbolising of musical sounds must detract, I think, from the high
mission of music: which, as I conceive, is neither to be an agent for
expressing material things; nor to utter pretty sounds to amuse the
ear; nor a sensuous excitant to fire the blood, or a sedative to lull
the senses: it is a _language_, but a language of the intangible, a
kind of soul-language. It appeals directly to the _Seelenzustände_ it
springs from, for it is the natural expression of it, rather than,
like words, a translation of it into set stereotyped symbols which may
or may not be accepted for what they were intended to denote by the
writer"--a _credo_ which sums up in fairly complete form his theory of
music-making, whatever validity it may have as a philosophical

In regard to the sadly vexed question of musical nationalism,
especially in its relation to America, his position was definite and
positive. His views on this subject may well be quoted somewhat in
detail, since they have not always been justly represented or fully
understood. In the following excerpt, from a lecture on "Folk-Music,"
he pays his respects to Dvorák's "New World" symphony, and touches
upon his own attitude toward the case as exemplified in his "Indian"

"A man is generally something different from the clothes he wears or
the business he is occupied with; but when we do see a man identified
with his clothes we think but little of him. And so it is with music.
So-called Russian, Bohemian, or any other purely national music has no
place in art, for its characteristics may be duplicated by anyone who
takes the fancy to do so. On the other hand, the vital element of
music--personality--stands alone. We have seen the Viennese Strauss
family adopting the cross rhythms of the Spanish--or, to be more
accurate, the Moorish or Arab--school of art. Moszkowski the Pole
writes Spanish dances. Cowen in England writes a Scandinavian
Symphony. Grieg the Norwegian writes Arabian music; and, to cap the
climax, we have here in America been offered a pattern for an
'American' national musical costume by the Bohemian Dvorak--though
what the Negro melodies have to do with Americanism in art still
remains a mystery. Music that can be made by 'recipe' is not music,
but 'tailoring.' To be sure, this tailoring may serve to cover a
beautiful thought; but--why cover it? and, worst of all, why cover it
(if covered it must be: if the trademark of nationality is
indispensable, which I deny)--why cover it with the badge of whilom
slavery rather than with the stern but at least manly and free
rudeness of the North American Indian? If what is called local tone
colour is necessary to music (which it most emphatically is not), why
not adopt some of the Hindoo _Ragas_ and modes--each one of which (and
the modes alone number over seventy-two) will give an individual tonal
character to the music written according to its rules? But the means
of 'creating' a national music to which I have alluded are childish.
No: before a people can find a musical writer to echo its genius it
must first possess men who truly represent it--that is to say, men
who, being part of the people, love the country for itself: men who
put into their music what the nation has put into its life; and in the
case of America it needs above all, both on the part of the public and
on the part of the writer, absolute freedom from the restraint that an
almost unlimited deference to European thought and prejudice has
imposed upon us. Masquerading in the so-called nationalism of Negro
clothes cut in Bohemia will not help us. What we must arrive at is the
youthful optimistic vitality and the undaunted tenacity of spirit that
characterizes the American man. This is what I hope to see echoed in
American music."

Of MacDowell as a pianist, Mr. Henry T. Finck, who had known him in
this capacity almost from the beginning of his career in America, has
written for me his impressions, and I shall quote them, rather than
any of my own; since I had comparatively few opportunities to hear him
display, at his best, the full measure of his ability:

"As he never felt quite sure," writes Mr. Finck, "that what he was
composing was worth while, so, in the matter of playing in public, he
was so self-distrustful that when he came on the stage and sat down on
the piano stool he hung his head and looked a good deal like a
school-boy detected in the act of doing something he ought not to do.

"Often though I was with him--sometimes a week at a time in
Peterboro--I never could persuade him to play for me. I once asked
Paderewski to play for me his new set of songs, and he promptly did
so. But MacDowell always was 'out of practice,' or had some other
excuse, generally a witticism or bit of sarcasm at his own expense. I
am sorry now that I did not urge him with more persistence, for he
might have yielded in the end, and I would have got a more _intime_
idea of his playing; for after all a musical tête-à-tête like that is
preferable to any public hearing. I never heard Grieg play at a
concert, but I am sure that the hour I sat near him in his Bergen
home, while he played and his wife sang, gave me a better appreciation
of his skill as an interpreter than I could have got in a public hall
with an audience to distract his attention. One afternoon I called on
Saint-Saëns at his hotel after one of his concerts in New York.
Talking about it, he sat down at the piano, ran over his _Valse
Canariote_, and said: 'That's the way I _ought_ to have played it!'

"MacDowell was quite right in saying that he was out of practice; he
generally was, his duties as professor allowing him little time for
technical exercising; but once every few years he set to work and got
his fingers into a condition which enabled them to follow his
intentions; and those intentions, it is needless to say, were always
honourable! He never played any of those show pieces which help along
a pianist, but confined himself to the best he could find.

"Usually the first half of a recital was devoted to the classical and
romantic masters, the second to his own compositions. Beethoven,
Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Grieg, were likely to be represented, and he
also did missionary work for Templeton Strong and other Americans. His
interpretation of the music of other composers was both objective and
subjective; there was no distortion or exaggeration, yet one could not
mistake the fact that it was MacDowell who was playing it.

"The expression, 'he played like a composer,' is often used to hint
that the technic was not that of a virtuoso. In this sense MacDowell
did not play like a composer; his technical skill was equal to
everything he played, though never obtrusive. In another sense he did
play 'like a composer,' especially when interpreting his own pieces;
that is, he played with an insight, a subtlety of expression, which
only a creative performer has at his command. I doubt if Chopin
himself could have rendered one of his pieces with more ravishing
delicacy than MacDowell showed in playing his 'To a Wild Rose.' I
doubt if Liszt could have shown a more overwhelming dramatic power
than MacDowell did in playing his 'Keltic' sonata. In this combination
of feminine tenderness with masculine strength he was, as in his
creative gift, a man of genius. After one of his concerts I wrote in
the glow of enthusiasm that I would rather hear him than any pianist
in the field excepting Paderewski; that utterance I never saw reason
to modify."

For an interesting and closely observed description of MacDowell's
technical peculiarities as a piano player I am indebted to his friend
and pupil, Mr. T.P. Currier, who had followed MacDowell's career as a
pianist from the time of his first public appearance in Boston:

"[His finger velocity] was at that time [in 1888] the most striking
characteristic of his playing," says Mr. Currier. "For him, too, it
was a mere bagatelle. He took to prestissimo like a duck to water. He
could, in fact, play fast more easily than he could slowly. One of his
ever-present fears was that in performance his fingers would run away
with him. And many hours were spent in endeavours to control such an
embarrassing tendency. This extraordinary velocity, acquired in the
Paris Conservatory, and from his friend and teacher, Carl Heymann, of
Frankfort, invariably set his listeners agape, and was always one of
the chief sensations at his concerts.

"But for this finger speeding and for his other technical acquirements
as well, MacDowell cared little, except as they furthered his one
absorbing aim. He was heart and soul a composer, and to be able to
play his own music as he heard it in his inner ear was his single spur
to practice. From the time of his complete immersion in composition,
his ideas of pianistic effects, of tone colour, gradually led him
farther and farther away from conventional pianism. Scales and
arpeggios, as commonly rendered, had no longer interest or charm for
him. He cared for finger passages only when they could be made to
suggest what he wanted them to suggest in his own colour-scheme. With
his peculiar touch and facility at command, he rejoiced in turning
such passages into streams and swirls of tone, marked with strong
accents and coloured with vivid, dynamic contrasts.

"That his passage playing rarely sounded clean and pure--like that of
a Rosenthal--was due not only to his musical predilections, but to his
hand formation as well. His hand was broad and rather thick-set, and
tremendously muscular. It would not bend back at the knuckles; and the
fingers also had no well-defined knuckle movement. It appears,
therefore, that he could not, if he would, have succeeded on more
conventional technical lines. Gradually he developed great strength
and intense activity in the middle joints, which enabled him to play
with a very close, often overlapping, touch, and to maintain extremely
rapid tempi in legato or staccato with perfect ease and little
fatigue. With this combination of velocity and close touch, it was a
slight matter to produce those pianistic effects which were especially
dear to him.

"MacDowell's finger development has been thus dwelt upon, because it
was, as has been said, the feature of his technic which immediately
surprised and captivated his hearers. Less noticeable was his wrist
and octave work. But his chord playing, though also relatively
unattractive, was even in those early days almost as uncommon in its
way as was his velocity. And in this field of technic, during his
later years, when in composition his mind turned almost wholly to this
mode of expression, he reached a plane of tonal effect which, for
variety, from vague, shadowy, mysterious _ppp_, to virile, orchestral
_ffff_, has never been surpassed by any pianist who has visited these
shores in recent years. His tone in chord playing, it is true, was
often harsh, and this fault also appeared in his melodic delivery. But
in both cases any unmusical effect was so greatly overbalanced by many
rare and beautiful qualities of tone production, that it was easily
forgiven and forgotten.

"Wonderful tone blending in finger passages; a peculiarly crisp, yet
veiled staccato; chord playing extraordinary in variety,--tender,
mysterious, sinister, heroic; a curiously unconventional yet effective
melodic delivery; playing replete with power, vitality, and dramatic
significance, always forcing upon the ear the phrase, never the
tickling of mere notes; a really marvellous command and use of both
pedals,--these were the characteristics of MacDowell's pianistic art
as he displayed it in the exposition of his own works. Unquestionably
he was a born pianist. If it had not been for his genius for
composition, he would, without doubt, have been known as a brilliant
and forceful interpreter of the greatest piano literature. But his
compositional bent turned him completely away from mere piano playing.
He was a composer-pianist, and as such he ever desired to be


As a pianist, as in all other matters touching his own capacities, he
was often tortured by doubts concerning the effect of his
performances. "I shall never forget," recalls his wife, "the first
time he played it [the "Eroica" sonata] in Boston. We all thought he
did it wonderfully. But when I went around to the green-room door to
find him, fearing something might be wrong, as he had not come to me,
he had gone. When I got home, accompanied by two friends, there he was
almost in a corner, white, and as if he were guilty of some crime, and
he said as we came in: 'I can play better than that. But I was so
tired!' We almost wept with the pity of the unnecessary suffering,
which was yet so real and intense. In a short time he was more
himself, and naïvely admitted that he had played three movements well,
but had been a 'd---- fool in one.' I grew to be very used to this as
the years went on, for he could not help emphasising to himself what
he did badly, and ignoring the good."

He left few uncompleted works. There are among his manuscripts three
movements of a symphony, two movements of a suite for string
orchestra, a suite for violin and piano, some songs and piano pieces,
and a large number of sketches. He had schemes for a music-drama on an
Arthurian subject, and sketched a single act of it. He had planned
this work upon novel lines: there was to be comparatively little
singing, and much emphasis was to be laid upon the orchestral
commentary; the action was to be carried on by a combination of
pantomime and tableaux, and the scenic element was to be
conspicuous--a suggestion which he got in part from E.A. Abbey's Holy
Grail frescoes in the Boston Public Library. But he had determined to
write his own text: and the prospective labour of this, made more
formidable by his restricted leisure, finally discouraged him, and he
abandoned the project. Five years before his death he destroyed the
sketches that he had made; only a few fragments remain.

A rare and admirable man!--a man who would have been a remarkable
personality if he had not written a note of music. His faults--and he
was far from being a paragon--were never petty or contemptible: they
were truly the defects of his qualities--of his honesty, his courage,
his passionate and often reckless zeal in the promotion of what he
believed to be sound and fine in art and in life. Mr. Philip Hale,
whose long friendship with MacDowell gives him the right to speak with
peculiar authority, and whose habit is that of sobriety in speech, has
written of him in words whose justice and felicity cannot be bettered:
"A man of blameless life, he was never pharasaical; he was
compassionate toward the slips and failings of poor humanity. He was a
true patriot, proud and hopeful of his country and of its artistic
future, but he could not brook the thought of patriotism used as a
cloak to cover mediocrity in art.... He was one who worked steadily
and courageously in the face of discouragement; who never courted by
trickery or device the favour of the public; who never fawned upon
those who might help him; who in his art kept himself pure and

  "O that so many pitchers of rough clay
  Should prosper and the porcelain break in two!"




Among those music-makers of to-day who are both pre-eminent and
representative the note of sincere romance is infrequently sounded.
The fact must be obvious to the most casual observer of musical art in
its contemporary development. The significant work of the most
considerable musicians of our time--of Strauss, Debussy, Loeffler,
d'Indy--has few essentially romantic characteristics. It is necessary
to distinguish between that fatuous Romanticism of which Mr. Ernest
Newman has given an unequalled definition: the Romanticism which
expended itself in the fabrication of a pasteboard world of "gloomy
forests, enchanted castles, impossible maidens, and the obsolete
profession of magic," and that other and imperishable Spirit of
Romance whose infrequent embodiment in modern music I have remarked.
_That_ is a romance in no wise divorced from reality--is, in fact, but
reality diviningly perceived; if it uses the old Romanticistic
properties, it uses them not because of any inherent validity which
they possess, but because they may at times be made to serve as
symbols. It deals in a truth that is no less authentic because it is
conveyed in terms of a beauty that may often be in the last degree
incalculable and aërial.

It is to its persistent embodiment of this valid spirit of romance
that MacDowell's work owes its final and particular distinction. I
know of no composer who has displayed a like sensitiveness to the
finer stuff of romance. He has chosen more than occasionally to
employ, in the accomplishment of his purposes, what seems at first to
be precisely the magical apparatus so necessary to the older
Romanticism. Dryads and elves are his intimate companions, and he
dwells at times under fairy boughs and in enchanted woods; but for
him, as for the poets of the Celtic tradition, these things are but
the manifest images of an interior passion and delight. Seen in the
transfiguring mirror of his music, the moods and events of the natural
world, and of the drama that plays incessantly in the hearts of men,
are vivified into shapes and designs of irresistible beauty and
appeal. He is of those quickened ministers of beauty who attest for us
the reality of that changeless and timeless loveliness which the
visible world of the senses and the invisible world of the imagination
are ceaselessly revealing to the simple of heart, the dream-filled,
and the unwise.

MacDowell presents throughout the entire body of his work the
noteworthy spectacle of a radical without extravagance, a musician at
once in accord with, and detached from, the dominant artistic
movement of his day. The observation is more a definition than an
encomium. He is a radical in that, to his sense, music is nothing if
not articulate. Wagner's luminous phrase, "the fertilisation of music
by poetry," would have implied for him no mere æsthetic abstraction,
but an intimate and ever-present ideal. He was a musician, yet he
looked out upon the visible world and inward upon the world of the
emotions through the transforming eyes of the poet. He would have
none of a formal and merely decorative beauty--a beauty serving no
expressional need of the heart or the imagination. In this ultimate
sense he is to be regarded as a realist--a realist with the
romantic's vision, the romantic's preoccupation; and yet he is as
alien to the frequently unleavened literalism of Richard Strauss as
he is to the academic ideal. Though he conceives the prime mission of
music to be interpretive, he insists no less emphatically that, in
its function as an expressional instrument, it shall concern itself
with essences and impressions, and not at all with transcriptions.
His standpoint is, in the last analysis, that of the poet rather than
of the typical musician: the standpoint of the poet intent mainly
upon a vivid embodiment of the quintessence of personal vision and
emotion, who has elected to utter that truth and that emotion in
terms of musical beauty. One is, indeed, almost tempted to say that
he is paramountly a poet, to whom the supplementary gift of musical
speech has been extravagantly vouchsafed.

He is a realist, as I have said--applying the term in that larger
sense which denotes the transmutation of life into visible or audible
form, and which implicates Beethoven as well as Wagner, Schumann as
well as Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Debussy as well as Strauss: all those
in whom the desire for intelligible utterance coexists with, or
supersedes, the impulse toward perfected design. But if MacDowell's
method of transmutation is not the method of Strauss, neither is it
the method of Schumann, or of Debussy. He occupies a middle ground
between the undaunted literalism of the Munich tone-poet and the
sentimental posturings into which the romanticism of Schumann so
frequently declined. It is impossible to conceive him attempting the
musical exposition of such themes as kindled the imagination of
Strauss when he wrought out his "Heldenleben," "Zarathustra," and
"Till Eulenspiegel"; nor has he any appreciable affinity with the
prismatic subtleties of the younger French school: so that there is
little in the accent of his musical speech to remind one of the
representative voices of modernity.

Though he has avoided shackling his music to a detailed programme, he
has never very seriously espoused the sophistical compromise which
concedes the legitimacy of programme-music provided it speaks as
potently to one who does not know the subject-matter as to one who
does. The bulk of his music no more discloses its full measure of
beauty and eloquence to one who is in ignorance of its poetic basis
than would Wagner's "Faust" overture, Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and
Juliet," or Debussy's "L'Après-midi d'un Faune." Its appeal is
conditioned upon an understanding of the basis of drama and emotional
crisis upon which the musician has built; and in much of his music he
has frankly recognized this fact, and has printed at the beginning of
such works as the "Idyls" and "Poems" after Goethe and Heine, the
"Norse" and "Keltic" sonatas, the "Sea Pieces," and the "New England
Idyls," the fragment of verse or legend or meditation which has served
as the particular stimulus of his inspiration; while in other works
he has contented himself with the suggestion of a mood or subject
embodied in his title, as, for example, in his "Woodland
Sketches,"--"To a Wild Rose," "Will o' the Wisp," "At an Old Trysting
Place," "In Autumn," "From an Indian Lodge," "To a Water-Lily," "A
Deserted Farm." That he has been tempted, however, in the direction of
the compromise to which I have alluded, is evident from the fact that
although his symphonic poem "Lancelot and Elaine" is built upon the
frame of an extremely definite sequence of events,--such as Lancelot's
downfall in the tournament, his return to the court, Guinevere's
casting away of the trophies, the approach of the barge bearing
Elaine's body, and Lancelot's reverie by the river bank,--he gives in
the published score no hint whatever of the particular phases of that
moving chronicle of passion and tragedy which he has so faithfully
striven to represent. "I would never have insisted," he wrote in 1899,
"that this symphonic poem need mean 'Lancelot and Elaine' to everyone.
It did to me, however, and in the hope that my artistic enjoyment
might be shared by others, I added the title to my music."

But if MacDowell displayed at times the usual inconsistency of the
modern tone-poet in his attitude toward the whole subject of
programme-music,[8] the tendency was neither a persistent nor
determined one; and he was, as I have noted, even less disposed toward
the frankly literal methods of which Strauss and his followers are
such invincible exponents. His nearest approach to such diverting
expedients as the bleating sheep and the exhilarating wind-machine of
"Don Quixote" is in the denotement of the line:

  "And like a thunderbolt he falls"

in his graphic paraphrase of Tennyson's poem, "The Eagle"--an
indulgence which the most exigent champion of programmatic reserve
would probably condone. In the main, MacDowell's predilection for what
he chose to call "suggestive" music finds expression in such continent
symbolism as he employs in those elastically wrought tone-poems, brief
or vigorously sustained, in which he sets forth a poetic concept with
memorable vividness--in such things as his terse though astonishingly
eloquent apostrophe "To a Wandering Iceberg," and his "In Mid-Ocean,"
from the "Sea Pieces"; in "To a Water-lily," from the "Woodland
Sketches"; in the "Winter" and "In Deep Woods" from the "New England
Idyls"; in the "Marionettes" ("Soubrette," "Lover," "Witch," "Clown,"
"Villain," "Sweetheart"); in the Raff-like orchestral suite, op. 42
("In a Haunted Forest," "Summer Idyll," "The Shepherdess' Song,"
"Forest Spirits"), and in the later and far more important "Indian"
suite for orchestra ("Legend," "Love Song," "In War-time," "Dirge,"
"Village Festival").

[8] That MacDowell came later to realise the disadvantages, no less
than the inconsistency, of writing programme-music based upon a
detailed and definite programme and then withholding the programme, is
indicated by this passage from a lecture on Beethoven which he
delivered at Columbia: "If it [Beethoven's music] is absolute music,
according to the accepted meaning of the term, either it must be
beautiful music in itself,--that is, composed of beautiful sounds,--or
its excuse for _not_ being beautiful must rest upon its power of
expressing emotions and ideas that demand other than merely beautiful
tones for their utterance. Music, for instance, that would give us the
emotion--if I may call it that--of a series of exploding bombshells
could hardly be called 'absolute music'; yet that is exactly what the
opening of the last movement of the so-called 'Moonlight' Sonata meant
to Miss Thackeray, who speaks of it in her story, 'Beauty and the
Beast.'... If this is abstract music, it is bad. We know, however,
that Beethoven had some poetic idea in his mind as he wrote this; but
as he never gave the clew to the world, the music has been swallowed
as 'absolute music' by the modern formalists"--a comment which would
apply almost word for word, with a change of names and titles, to a
certain tumultuous and "unbeautiful" passage in MacDowell's "Lancelot
and Elaine." This passage is intended to express the rage and jealousy
of Guinevere; but MacDowell has given no indication of this fact in
his score, and only occasionally does the information find its way
into the programme-books. Yet in his own copy of the score he wrote a
complete and detailed key to the significance of the music at every
point. Such are the ways of the musical realist!

He was, in an extraordinarily complete sense, a celebrant of the
natural world. His imagination was enslaved by the miraculous pageant
of the visible earth, and he sought tirelessly to transfix some moment
of its wonder or its splendour or its terror in permanent images of
tone. The melancholy beauty of the autumn woods, the loveliness of
quiet waters under fading skies, the sapphire and emerald glories, or
the ominous chantings, of the sea, the benign and mysterious majesty
of summer stars, the lyric sweetness of a meadow: these things urged
him to musical transcripts, notations of loving tenderness and
sincerity. His music is redolent of the breath and odour of woodland
places, of lanes and moors and gardens; or it is saturated with salt
spray; or it communicates the incommunicable in its voicing of that
indefinable and evanescent sense of association which is evoked by
certain aspects, certain phases, of the outer world--that sudden
emotion of things past and irrecoverable which may cling about a field
at sunset, or a quiet street at dusk, or a sudden intimation of spring
in the scent of lilacs.

But although such themes as he loved to dwell upon in his celebration
of the magic of the natural world were very precious to his
imagination, the human spectacle held for him, from the first, an
emotion scarcely less swift and abundant. His scope is comprehensive:
he can voice the archest gaiety, a naive and charming humour, as in
the "Marionettes" and in the songs "From an Old Garden"; there is
passion in the symphonic poems and in many of the songs; while in the
sonatas and in the "Indian" suite the tragic note is struck with
impressive and indubitable authority.

Of the specifically musical traits in which MacDowell exhibits the
tendencies and preferences which underlie his art, one must begin by
saying that his distinguishing quality--that which puts so
unmistakable a stamp upon his work--eludes precise definition. His
tone is unmistakable. Its chief possession is a certain clarity and
directness which is apparent no less in moments of great stress and
complexity of emotion than in passages of simpler and slighter
content. His style has little of the torrential rhetoric, the
unbridled gusto and exuberance of Strauss, though it owns something of
his forthright quality; nor has it any of Debussy's withdrawals. One
thinks, as a discerning commentator has observed, of the "broad
Shakespearian daylight" of Fitzgerald's fine phrase as being not
inapplicable to the atmosphere of MacDowell's writing. He has few
reservations, and he shows small liking for recondite effects of
harmonic colour, for the wavering melodic line--which is far from
implying that he is ever merely obvious or banal: that he never is.
His clarity, his directness, find issue in an order of expression at
once lucid and distinguished, at once spontaneous and expressive. It
is difficult to recall, in any example of his maturer work, a single
passage that is not touched with a measure of beauty and character. He
had, of course, his period of crude experimentation, his days of
discipleship. In his earlier writing there is not a little that is
unworthy of him: much in which one seeks vainly for that note of
distinction and personality which sounds so constantly throughout the
finer body of his work. But in that considerable portion of his output
which is genuinely representative--say from his opus 45 onward--he
sustains his art upon a noteworthy level of fineness and strength.

The range of his expressional gamut is striking. One is at a loss to
say whether he is happier in emotional moments of weighty
significance,--as in many pages of the sonatas and some of the "Sea
Pieces,"--or in such cameo-like performances as the "Woodland
Sketches," certain of the "Marionettes,"[9] and the exquisite song
group, "From an Old Garden," in which he attains an order of delicate
eloquence difficult to associate with the mind which shaped the heroic
ardours of the "Norse" and "Keltic" sonatas. His capacity for forceful
utterance is remarkable. Only in certain pages of Strauss is there
anything in contemporary music which compares, for superb virility,
dynamic power, and sweep of line, with the opening of the "Keltic"
sonata. He has, moreover, a remarkable gift for compact expression.
Time and again he astonishes by his ability to charge a composition of
the briefest span with an emotional or dramatic content of large and
far-reaching significance. His "To the Sea,"[10] for example, is but
thirty-one bars long; yet within this limited frame he has confined a
tone-picture which for breadth of conception and concentrated
splendour of effect is paralleled in the contemporary literature of
the piano only by himself. Consider, also, the "Epilogue" in the
revised version of the "Marionettes." The piece comprises only a score
of measures; yet within it the thought of the composer traverses a
world of philosophical meditation: here is reflected the mood of one
who looks with grave tenderness across the tragi-comedy of human life,
in which, he would say to us, we are no less the playthings of a
controlling destiny than are the figures of his puppet microcosm.

[9] The revised version, published in 1901, is referred to. The
original edition, which appeared in 1888, is decidedly inferior.

[10] From the "Sea Pieces," for piano.


This scope and amplitude of expression are realised through a method
at once plastic and unlaboured; his art has spontaneity--the deceptive
spontaneity of the expert craftsman. It is not, in its elements, a
strikingly novel style. His harmony, _per se_, is not unusual, if one
sets it beside the surprising combinations evolved by such innovators
as d'Indy, Debussy, and Strauss. It is in the novel disposition of
familiar material--in what Mr. Apthorp has happily called his "free,
instinctive application of the old in a new way"--that MacDowell's
emphatic individuality consists. Whether it is a more signal
achievement to create a new speech through the readjustment of
established locutions than to evolve it from fresh and unworked
elements, is open to debate. Be that as it may, however, MacDowell's
achievement is of the former order.

His harmonic method is ingenious and pliable. An over-insistence upon
certain formulas--eloquent enough in themselves--has been charged
against it, and the accusation is not without foundation. MacDowell is
exceedingly fond, for instance, of suspensions in the chord of the
diminished seventh. There is scarcely a page throughout his later work
in which one does not encounter this effect in but slightly varied
form. Yet there is a continual richness in his harmonic texture. I can
think of no other composer, save Wagner, whose chord-progressions are
so full and opulent in colour. His tonal web is always densely
woven--he avoids "thinness" as he avoids the banal phrase and the
futile decoration. In addition to the plangency of his chord
combinations, as such, his polyphonic skill is responsible for much of
the solidity of his fabric. His pages, particularly in the more recent
works, are studded with examples of felicitous and dexterous
counterpoint--poetically significant, and of the most elastic and
untrammelled contrivance. Even in passages of a merely episodic
character, one is struck with the vitality and importance of his inner
voices. Dissonance--in the sense in which we understand dissonance
to-day--plays a comparatively unimportant part in his technical
method. The climax of the second of the "Sea Pieces"--"From a
Wandering Iceberg"--marks about as extreme a point of harmonic
conflict as he ever touches. Nor has he been profoundly affected by
the passion for unbridled chromaticism engendered in modern music by
the procedures of Chopin, Liszt, and Wagner. Even in the earlier of
the orchestral works, "Hamlet and Ophelia" and "Lancelot and
Elaine"--both written in Germany in the days when the genius of Wagner
was an ambient and inescapable flame--the writing is comparatively
free from chromatic effects. On the other hand, he is far less
audaciously diatonic than Richard Strauss. His style is, in fact, a
subtle blend of opposing tendencies.

That his songs constitute almost a third of the entire bulk of his
work is not without significance; for his melodic gift is, probably,
the most notable possession of his art. His insistence upon the value
and importance of the _melos_ was, indeed, one of his cardinal tenets;
and he is, in his practice,--whether writing for the voice, for piano,
or for orchestra,--inveterately and frankly melodic: melodic with a
suppleness, a breadth, a freshness and spontaneity which are anything
but common in the typical music of our day. It is a curious experience
to turn from the music of such typical moderns as Loeffler and
Debussy, with its elusive melodic contours, its continual avoidance of
definite patterns, its passion for the esoteric and its horror of
direct communication, to the music of such a writer as MacDowell. For
he has accomplished the difficult and perilous feat of writing frankly
without obviousness, simply without triteness. His melodic outlines
are firm, clean-cut, apprehendable; but they are seldom commonplace in
design. His thematic substance at its best--in, say, the greater part
of the sonatas, the "Sea Pieces," the "Woodland Sketches," the "Four
Songs" of op. 56--has saliency, character, and often great beauty; and
even when it is not at its best--as in much of his writing up to his
opus 45--it has a spirit and colour that lift it securely above

It must have already become evident to anyone who has followed this
essay at an exposition of MacDowell's art that his view of the
traditional musical forms is a liberal one. Which is briefly to say
that, although his application to his art of the fundamental
principles of musical design is deliberate and satisfying, he shares
the typical modern distaste for the classic forms. His four sonatas,
his two piano concertos, and his two "modern suites" for piano are his
only important adventures in the traditional instrumental moulds. The
catalogue of his works is innocent of any symphony, overture, string
quartet, or cantata. The major portion of his work is as elastic and
emancipated in form as it is unconfined in spirit. He preferred to
shape his inspiration upon the mould of a definite poetic concept,
rather than upon a constructive formula which was, for him, artificial
and anomalous. Even in his sonatas the classic prescription is altered
or abrogated at will in accordance with the requirements of the
underlying poetic idea.



MacDowell's impulse toward significant expression was not slow in
declaring itself. The first "modern suite" (op. 10), the earliest of
his listed works, which at first glance seems to be merely a group of
contrasted movements of innocently traditional aspect, with the
expected Præludium, Presto, Intermezzo, Fugue, etc., contains,
nevertheless, the germ of the programmatic principle; for at the head
of the third movement (Andantino and Allegretto) one comes upon a
motto from Virgil--"Per amica silentia lunæ," and the Rhapsodic is
introduced with the

  "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch' entrate"

of Dante. The Præludium of the second piano suite, op. 14, is also
annotated, having been suggested by lines from Byron's "Manfred."
In the "Zwei Fantasiestücke", op. 17--"Erzählung" and "Hexentanz"--but
more particularly in the "Wald-Idyllen" of op. 19--"Waldesstille,"
"Spiel der Nymphen," "Träumerei," and "Driadentanz,"--a definite
poetic concept is implied. Here the formative influence of Raff is
evident. The works which follow--"Drei Poesien" ("Nachts am Meere,"
"Erzählung aus der Ritterzeit," "Ballade"), and the "Mondbilder,"
after Hans Christian Andersen--are of a similar kind. The romanticism
which pervades them is not of a very finely distilled quality: they are
not, that is to say, the product of a clarified and wholly personal
vision--of the vision which prompted the issue of such things as the
"Woodland Sketches," the "Sea Pieces," and the "New England Idyls." In
these earlier works one feels that the romantic view has been assumed
somewhat vicariously--one can imagine the favourite pupil of Raff
producing a group of "Wald-Idyllen" quite as a matter of course, and
without interior conviction. Nor is the style marked by individuality,
except in occasional passages. There are traces of his peculiar
quality in the first suite,--in the 6/8 passage of the Rhapsodie, for
example,--in portions of the first piano concerto (the _a piacere_
passage toward the close of the first movement is particularly
characteristic), in the _Erzählung_, and in No. 3 (_Träumerei_) of the
_Wald-Idyllen_; but the prevailing note of his style at this time was,
quite naturally, strongly Teutonic: one encounters in it the trail of
Liszt, of Schumann, of Raff, of Wagner.

Not until one reaches the "Hamlet and Ophelia" is it apparent that he
is beginning to find himself. This work was written before he had
completed his twenty-fourth year; yet the music is curiously ripe in
feeling and accomplishment. There is breadth and steadiness of view in
the conception, passion and sensitiveness in its embodiment: It is
mellower, of a deeper and finer beauty, than anything he had
previously done, though nowhere has it the inspiration of his later

The second piano concerto (op. 23), completed a year later, is fairly
within the class of that order of music which it has been generally
agreed to describe as "absolute." It is innocent of any programme,
save for the fact that some of the ideas prompted by "Much Ado About
Nothing," which were to form a "Beatrice and Benedick" symphonic poem,
were, as I have related in a previous chapter, incorporated in the
scherzo. Together with its companion work, the first piano concerto;
the "Romanza" for 'cello and orchestra; the concert study, op. 36, and
such conventional _morceaux_ as the early "Serenata" and "Barcarolle"
(of which, it should be noted, there are extremely few among his
productions), it represents the very limited body of his writing which
does not, in some degree, propose and enforce a definite poetic
concept. Not elsewhere in his earlier work has MacDowell marshalled
the materials of his art with so confident an artistry as he exhibits
in this concerto. In substance the work is not extraordinary. The
manner derives something from Grieg, more from Liszt, and there is
comparatively little disclosure of personality. But the manipulation
is, throughout, the work of a music-wright of brilliant executive
capacity. In fundamental logic, in cohesion, flexibility, and symmetry
of organism, it is a brilliantly successful accomplishment. As in all
of MacDowell's writing, its allegiance is to the basic principles of
structure and design, rather than to a traditional and arbitrary

The succeeding opus (24), comprising the "Humoreske," "March," "Cradle
Song," and "Czardas," is unimportant. Of the four pieces the gracious
"Cradle Song" is of the most worth. The group as a whole belongs to
that inconsiderable portion of his output which one cannot accept as
of serious artistic consequence. With the "Lancelot and Elaine" (op.
25), however, one comes upon a work of the grade of the "Hamlet and
Ophelia" music. MacDowell had a peculiar affinity for the spirit of
the Arthurian tales, and he was happy in whatever musical
transmutation of them he attempted. This tone-poem is, as he avows,
"after Tennyson." The work follows consistently the larger action of
the poem, and musical equivalents are sought and found for such
crucial incidents as the meeting with Elaine, the tournament,
Lancelot's downfall, his return to the court and the interview with
Guinevere, the apparition of the funeral barge, and the soliloquy of
Lancelot by the river bank. The work is dramatically conceived. There
are passages of impressive tenderness,--as in the incident of the
approaching barge; of climactic force,--as in the passage portraying
the casting away of the trophies; and there are admirable details of
workmanship. The scoring is full and adroit, though not very
elaborate. As always with him, the instrumental texture is richly
woven, although his utilisation of the possibilities of the orchestra
is far from exhaustive. One misses, for example, the colouring of
available harp effects, for which he appeared to have a distaste,
since the instrument is not required in any of his orchestral works.
That he was not satisfied with the scoring of the work is known. He
remarked to Mr. Philip Hale that it was "too full of horns"; and in
his own copy of the score, which I possess, he has made in pencil
numerous changes in the instrumentation, much to its improvement; he
has, for instance, in accord with his expressed feeling, reduced the
prominence of the horns, allotting their parts, in certain important
instances, to the wood-wind, trombones, or trumpets.

The "Six Idyls after Goethe," for piano (op. 28), are noteworthy as
foreshadowing the candid impressionism which was to have its finest
issue in the "Woodland Sketches," "Sea Pieces," and "New England
Idyls." The Goethe paraphrases, although they have only a tithe of the
graphic nearness and felicity of the later pieces, are yet fairly
successful in their attempt to find a musical correspondence for
certain definitely stated concepts and ideas--a partial fulfilment of
the method implied in the earlier "Wald-Idyllen." He presents
himself here as one who has yielded his imagination to an intimate
contemplation of the natural world, and who already has, in some
degree, the faculty of uttering whatever revelation of its loveliness
or majesty has been vouchsafed. At once, in studying these pieces, one
observes a wide departure in method and accomplishment from the style
of the "Wald-Idyllen." In those, it seemed, the poet had somehow
failed to compose "with his eye on the object": the vision lacked
steadiness, lacked penetration--or it may be that the vision was
present, but not the power of notation. In the Goethe paraphrases, on
the other hand, we are given, in a measure, the sense of the thing
perceived; I say "in a measure," for his power of acute and
sympathetic observation and of eloquent transmutation had not yet come
to its highest pitch. Of the six "Idyls," three--"In the Woods,"
"Siesta," and "To the Moonlight"--are memorable, though uneven; and of
these the third, after Goethe's "An den Mond," adumbrates faintly
MacDowell's riper manner. The "Silver Clouds," "Flute Idyl,"[11] and
"Blue Bell" are decidedly less characteristic.

[11] The poems which suggested this and the preceding piece were used
again by MacDowell in two of the most admirable of the "Eight Songs,"
op. 47.

His third orchestral work, the symphonic poem "Lamia," is based upon
the fantastic (and what Mr. Howells would call unconscionably
"romanticistic") poem of Keats. Begun during his last year in
Wiesbaden (1888), and completed the following winter in Boston, it
stands, in the order of MacDowell's orchestral pieces, between
"Lancelot and Elaine" and the two "fragments" after the "Song of
Roland." On a fly-leaf of the score MacDowell has written this
glossary of the story as told by Keats:

    "Lamia, an enchantress in the form of a serpent, loves Lycius, a
    young Corinthian. In order to win him she prays to Hermes, who
    answers her appeal by transforming her into a lovely maiden.
    Lycius meets her in the wood, is smitten with love for her, and
    goes with her to her enchanted palace, where the wedding is
    celebrated with great splendour. But suddenly Apollonius appears;
    he reveals the magic. Lamia again assumes the form of a serpent,
    the enchanted palace vanishes, and Lycius is found lifeless."

Now this is obviously just the sort of thing to stir the musical
imagination of a young composer nourished on Liszt, Raff, and Wagner;
and MacDowell (he was then in his twenty-seventh year) composed his
tone-poem with evident gusto. Yet it is the weakest of his orchestral
works--the weakest and the least characteristic. There is much Liszt
in the score, and a good deal of Wagner. Only occasionally--as in the
_pianissimo_ passage for flutes, clarinets, and divided strings,
following the first outburst of the full orchestra--does his own
individuality emerge with any positiveness. MacDowell withheld the
score from publication, at the time of its composition, because of his
uncertainty as to its effect. He had not had an opportunity to secure
a reading of it by one of the _Cur-Orchester_ which had accommodatingly
tried over his preceding scores at their rehearsals; and such a thing
was of course out of the question in America. Not only was he
reluctant to put it forth without such a test, but he lacked the funds
to pay for its publication. He came to realise in later years, of
course, that the music was immature and far from characteristic,
though he still had a genuine affection for it. In a talk which I had
with him a year before his collapse, he gave me the impression that he
considered it at least as good a piece of work as its predecessors,
"Hamlet and Ophelia" and "Lancelot and Elaine," though he made sport,
in his characteristic way, of its occasional juvenility and its
Wagneristic allegiances. He intended ultimately to revise and publish
the score, and he allowed it to remain on the list of his works. After
his death it was concluded that it would be wise to print the music,
for several reasons. These were, first, because of the fear lest,
if it were allowed to remain in manuscript, it might at some future
time suffer from well-meant attempts at revision; and, secondly,
because of the chance that it might be put forward, after the death
of those who knew its history, in a way which would seem to make
unwarranted pretensions for it, or would give rise to doubts as to its
authenticity. In a word, it was felt that its immediate publication
would obviate any possible misconception at some future time as to its
true relation to MacDowell's artistic evolution. It was, therefore,
published in October, 1908, twenty years after its composition, with a
dedication to Mr. Henry T. Finck.

In "Die Sarazenen" and "Die Schöne Aldâ," two "fragments" for
orchestra after the "Song of Roland," numbered op. 30, a graver note
is sounded. These "fragments," originally intended to form part of a
"Roland" symphony, were published in 1891 in their present form, the
plan for a symphony having been definitely abandoned. "Die
Sarazenen" is a transcription of the scene in which Ganelon, the
traitor in Charlemagne's camp through whose perfidy Roland met his
death, swears to commit his crime. It is a forceful conception,
barbaric in colour and rhythm, and picturesquely scored. The second
fragment, "Die Schöne Aldâ," is, however, a more memorable work,
depicting the loveliness and the grieving of Aldâ, Roland's betrothed.
In spite of its strong Wagnerian leanings, the music bears the impress
of MacDowell's own style, and it has moments of rare loveliness. Both
pieces are programmatic in bent, and, with excellent wisdom, MacDowell
has quoted upon the fly-leaf of the score those portions of the "Song
of Roland" from which the conception of the music sprang.

Like the "Idyls" after Goethe, the "Six Poems" after Heine (op. 31),
for piano, are devoted to the embodiment of a poetic subject,--with
the difference that instead of the landscape impressionism of the
Goethe studies we have a persistent impulse toward psychological
suggestion. Each of the poems which he has selected for illustration
has a burden of human emotion which the music reflects with varying
success. The style is more individualised than in the Goethe pieces,
and the invention is, on the whole, of a superior order. The "Scotch
Poem" (No. 2) is the most successful of the set; the

  "... schöne, kranke Frau,
  Zartdurchsichtig und marmorblass,"

and her desolate lamenting, are sharply projected, though scarcely
with the power that he would have brought to bear upon the endeavour a
decade later. Less effective, but more characteristic, is "The
Shepherd Boy" (No. 5). This is almost, at moments, MacDowell in the
happiest phase of his lighter vein. The transition from F minor to
major, after the _fermata_ on the second page, is as typical as it is
delectable; and the fifteen bars that follow are of a markedly
personal tinge. "From Long Ago" and "From a Fisherman's Hut" are less
good, and "The Post Wagon" and "Monologue" are disappointing--the
latter especially so, because the exquisite poem which he has chosen
to enforce, the matchless lyric beginning "Der Tod, das ist die kühle
Nacht," should, it seems, have offered an inspiring incentive.

In the "Four Little Poems" of op. 32 one encounters a piece which it
is possible to admire without qualification: I mean the music
conceived as an illustration to Tennyson's poem, "The Eagle." The
three other numbers of this opus, "The Brook," "Moonshine," and
"Winter," one can praise only in measured terms--although "Winter,"
which attempts a representation of the "widow bird" and frozen
landscape of Shelley's lyric, has some measures that dwell
persistently in the memory: but "The Eagle" is a superb achievement.
Its deliberate purpose is to realise in tone the imagery and
atmosphere of Tennyson's lines--an object which it accomplishes with
triumphant completeness. As a feat of sheer tone-painting one recalls
few things, of a similar scope and purpose, that surpass it in
fitness, concision, and felicity. It displays a power of imaginative
transmutation hitherto undisclosed in MacDowell's writing. Here are
precisely the severe and lonely mood of the opening lines of the poem,
the sense of inaccessible and wind-swept spaces, which Tennyson has so
magnificently and so succinctly conveyed. Here, too, are the far-off,
"wrinkled sea," and the final cataclysmic and sudden descent: yet,
despite the literalism of the close, there is no yielding of artistic
sobriety in the result, for the music has an unassailable dignity. It
remains, even to-day, one of MacDowell's most characteristic and
admirable performances.

Of the "Romance" for 'cello and orchestra (op. 35), the Concert Study
(op. 36), and "Les Orientales" (op. 37),--three _morceaux_ for
piano, after Victor Hugo,--there is no need to speak in detail.
"Perfunctory" is the word which one must use to describe the creative
impulse of which they are the ungrateful legacy--an impulse less
spontaneous, there is reason to believe, than utilitarian. Perhaps
they may most justly be characterised as almost the only instances in
which MacDowell gave heed to the possibility of a reward not primarily
and exclusively artistic. They are sentimental and unleavened, and
they are far from worthy of his gifts, though they are not without a
certain rather inexpensive charm.


The "Marionettes" of op. 38 are in a wholly different case. Published
first in 1888, the year of MacDowell's return to America, they were
afterward extensively revised, and now appear under a radically
different guise. In its present form, the group comprises six _genre_
studies--"Soubrette," "Lover," "Witch," "Clown," "Villain,"
"Sweetheart"--besides two additions: a "Prologue" and "Epilogue." Here
MacDowell is in one of his happiest moods. It was a fortunate and
charming conceit which prompted the plan of the series, with its
half-playful, half-ironic, yet lurkingly poetic suggestions; for in
spite of the mood of bantering gaiety which placed the pieces in such
mocking juxtaposition, there is, throughout, an undertone of grave and
meditative tenderness which it is one of the peculiar properties of
MacDowell's art to communicate and enforce. This is continually
apparent in "The Lover" and "Sweetheart," fugitively so in the
"Prologue," and, in an irresistible degree, in the exceedingly poetic
and deeply felt "Epilogue"--one of the most typical and beautiful of
MacDowell's smaller works. The music of these pieces is, as with other
of his earlier works that he has since revised, confusing to the
observer who attempts to place it among his productions in the order
suggested by its opus number. For although in the list of his
published works the "Marionettes" follow immediately on the heels of
the Concert Study and "Les Orientales" the form in which they are
now most generally known represents the much later period of the
"Keltic" sonata--a fact which will, however, be sufficiently evident
to anyone who studies the two versions carefully enough to perceive
the difference between more or less experimental craftsmanship and
ripe and heedful artistry. The observer will notice in these pieces,
incidentally, the abandonment of the traditional Italian terms of
expression and the substitution of English words and phrases, which
are used freely and with adroitness to indicate every shade of the
composer's meaning. In place of the stereotyped terms of the
music-maker's familiarly limited vocabulary, we have such a system of
direct and elastic expression as Schumann adopted. Thus one finds, in
the "Prologue," such unmistakable and illuminating directions as:
"with sturdy good humour," "pleadingly," "mockingly"; in the
"Soubrette"--"poutingly"; in the "Lover"--in the "Villain"--"with
sinister emphasis," "sardonically." This method, which MacDowell has
followed consistently in all his later works, has obvious advantages;
and it becomes in his hands a picturesque and stimulating means for
the conveyance of his intentions. Its defect, equally obvious, is that
it is not, like the conventional Italian terminology, universally

The "Twelve Studies" of op. 39 are less original in conception and of
less artistic moment than the "Marionettes." Their titles--among which
are a "Hunting Song," a "Romance," a "Dance of the Gnomes," and others
of like connotation--suggest, in a measure, that imperfectly realised
romanticism which I have before endeavoured to separate from the
intimate spirit of sincere romance which MacDowell has so often
succeeded in embodying. The same thing is true, though in a less
degree, of the suite for orchestra (op. 42). It is more Raff-like--not
in effect but in conception--than anything he has done. There are four
movements: "In a Haunted Forest," "Summer Idyl," "The Shepherdess'
Song," and "Forest Spirits," together with a supplement, "In October,"
forming part of the original suite, but not published until several
years later. The work, as a whole, has atmosphere, freshness,
buoyancy, and it is scored with exquisite skill and charm; but somehow
it does not seem either as poetic or as distinguished as one imagines
it might have been made. It is carried through with delightful high
spirits, and with an expert order of craftsmanship; but it lacks
persuasion--lacks, to put it baldly, inspiration.

Passing over a sheaf of piano pieces, the "Twelve Virtuoso Studies" of
op. 46 (of which the "Novelette" and "Improvisation" are most
noteworthy), we come to a stage of MacDowell's development in which,
for the first time, he presents himself as an assured and confident
master of musical impressionism and the possessor of a matured and
fully individualised style.



With the completion and production of his "Indian" suite for orchestra
(op. 48) MacDowell came, in a measure, into his own. Mr. Philip Hale,
writing apropos of a performance of the suite at a concert of the
Boston Symphony Orchestra[12] in December, 1897, did not hesitate to
describe the work as "one of the noblest compositions of modern
times." Elsewhere he wrote concerning it: "The thoughts are the
musical thoughts of high imagination; the expression is that of the
sure and serene master. There are here no echoes of Raff, or Wagner,
or Brahms, men that have each influenced mightily the musical thought
of to-day. There is the voice of one composer: a virile, tender voice
that does not stammer, does not break, does not wax hysterical: the
voice of a composer that not only must pour out that which has
accumulated within him, but knows all the resources of musical
oratory--in a word, the voice of MacDowell."

[12] The suite is dedicated to this Orchestra and its former
conductor, Mr. Emil Paur.

MacDowell has derived the greater part of the thematic substance of
the suite, as he acknowledges in a prefatory note, from melodies of
the North American Indians, with the exception of a few subsidiary
themes of his own invention. "If separate titles for the different
movements are desired," he says in his note, "they should be arranged
as follows: I. 'Legend'; II. 'Love Song'; III. 'In War-time'; IV.
'Dirge'; V. Village Festival'"--a concession in which again one traces
a hint of the inexplicable and amusing reluctance of the musical
impressionist to acknowledge without reservation the programmatic
basis of his work. In the case of the "Indian" suite, however, the
intention is clear enough, even without the proffered titles; for the
several movements are unmistakably based upon firmly held concepts of
a definite dramatic and emotional significance. As supplemental aids
to the discovery of his poetic purposes, the phrases of direction
which he has placed at the beginning of each movement are indicative,
taken in connection with the titles which he sanctions. The first
movement, "Legend," is headed: _Not fast. With much dignity and
character_; the second movement, "Love Song," is to be played _Not
fast. Tenderly_; the third movement, "In War-time," is marked: _With
rough vigour, almost savagely_; the fourth, "Dirge": _Dirge-like,
mournfully_; the fifth, "Village Festival": _Swift and light_.

Here, certainly, is food for the imagination, the frankest of
invitations to the impressionable listener. There is no reason to
believe that the music is built throughout upon such a detailed and
specific plan as underlies, for example, the "Lancelot and Elaine";
the notable fact is that MacDowell has attained in this work to a
power and weight of utterance, an eloquence of communication, a
ripeness of style, and a security and strength of workmanship, which
he had not hitherto brought to the fulfilment of an avowedly
impressionistic scheme.[13] He has exposed the particular emotions and
the essential character of his subject with deep sympathy and
extraordinary imaginative force--at times with profoundly impressive
effect, as in the first movement, "Legend," and the third, "In
War-Time"; and in the overwhelmingly poignant "Dirge" he has achieved
the most profoundly affecting threnody in music since the
"Götterdämmerung" _Trauermarsch_. I am inclined to rank this movement,
with the sonatas and one or two of the "Woodland Sketches" and "Sea
Pieces," as the choicest emanation of MacDowell's genius; and of these
it is, I think, the most inspired and the most deeply felt. The
extreme pathos of the opening section, with the wailing phrase in the
muted strings under the reiterated G of the flutes (an inverted
organ-point of sixteen _adagio_ measures); the indescribable effect of
the muted horn heard from behind the scenes, over an accompaniment of
divided violas and 'cellos _con sordini_; the heart-shaking sadness
and beauty of the succeeding passage for all the muted strings; the
mysterious and solemn close: these are outstanding moments in a
masterpiece of the first rank: a page which would honour any
music-maker, living or dead.

[13] The "Tragica" sonata, op. 45, which antedates the suite by
several years, and of which I shall write in another chapter, has a
considerably less definite content.

In the suite as a whole he has caught and embodied the fundamental
spirit of his theme: these are the sorrows and laments and rejoicings,
not of our own day and people, but of the vanished life of an
elemental and dying race; here is the solitude of dark forests, of
illimitable and lonely prairies, and the sombreness and wildness of
one knows not what grim tragedies and romances and festivities enacted
in the shadow of a fading past.

Into the discussion of the relation between such works as the "Indian"
suite and the establishment of a possible "American" school of music I
shall not intrude. To those of us who believe that such a "school,"
whether desirable or not, can never be created through conscious
effort, and who are entirely willing to permit time and circumstance
to bring about its establishment, the subject is as wearisome as it is
unprofitable. The logic of the belief that it is possible to achieve a
representative nationalism in music by the ingenuous process of
adopting the idiom of an alien though neighbouring race is not
immediately apparent; and although MacDowell in this suite has
admittedly derived his basic material from the North American
aborigines, he never, so far as I am aware, claimed that his
impressive and noble score constitutes, for that reason, a
representatively national utterance. He perceived, doubtless, that
territorial propinquity is quite a different thing from racial
affinity; and that a musical art derived from either Indian or
Ethiopian sources can be "American" only in a partial and quite
unimportant sense. He recognised, and he affirmed the belief, that
racial elements are transitory and mutable, and that provinciality in
art, even when it is called patriotism, makes for a probable oblivion.

I have already dwelt upon MacDowell's preoccupation with the pageant
of the natural world. If one is tempted, at times, to praise in him
the celebrant of the "mystery and the majesty of earth" somewhat at
the expense of the musical humanist, it is because he has in an
uncommon degree the intimate visualising faculty of the essential
Celt. "In all my work," he avowed a few years before his death, "there
is the Celtic influence. I love its colour and meaning. The
development in music of that influence is, I believe, a new field."
That it was a note which he was pre-eminently qualified to strike and
sustain is beyond doubt: and, as he seems to have realised, he had the
field to himself. He is, strangely enough, the first Celtic influence
of genuine vitality and importance which has been exerted upon
creative music--a singular but incontestable fact. As it is exerted by
him it has an exquisite authenticity. Again and again one is aware
that the "sheer, inimitable Celtic note," which we have long known how
to recognise in another art, is being sounded in the music of this
composer who has in his heart and brain so much of "the wisdom of old
romance." With him one realises that "natural magic" is, as Mr. Yeats
has somewhere said, "but the ancient worship of Nature and that
troubled ecstasy before her, that certainty of all beautiful places
being haunted, which is brought into men's minds." We have observed
the operation of this impulse in such comparatively immature
productions as the "Wald-Idyllen" and the "Idyls" after Goethe, in
the "Four Little Poems" of op. 32, and in the first orchestral suite;
but it is in the much later "Woodland Sketches" and "Sea Pieces," for
piano, that the tendency comes to its finest issue.

Music, of course--from Frohberger and Haydn to Mendelssohn, Wagner,
Raff, and Debussy--abounds in examples of natural imagery. In claiming
a certain excellence for his method one need scarcely imply that
MacDowell has ever threatened the supremacy of such things as the
"Rheingold" prelude or the "Walküre" fire music. It is as much by
reason of his choice of subjects as because of the peculiar vividness
and felicity of his expression, that he occupies so single a place
among tone-poets of the external world. He has never attempted such
vast frescoes as Wagner delighted to paint. Of his descriptive music
by far the greater part is written for the piano; so that, at the
start, a very definite limitation is imposed upon magnitude of plan.
You cannot suggest on the piano, with any adequacy of effect, a
mountain-side in flames, or the prismatic arch of a rainbow, or the
towering architecture of cloud forms; so MacDowell has confined
himself within the bounds of such canvases as he paints upon in his
"Four Little Poems" ("The Eagle," "The Brook," "Moonshine," "Winter"),
in his first orchestral suite, and in the inimitable "Woodland
Sketches" and "Sea Pieces." Thus his themes are starlight, a
water-lily, will o' the wisps, a deserted farm, a wild rose, the
sea-spell, deep woods, an old garden. As a fair exemplification of his
practice, consider, let me say, his "To a Water-lily," from the
"Woodland Sketches." It is difficult to recall anything in objective
tone-painting, for the piano or for the orchestra, conceived and
executed quite in the manner of this remarkable piece of lyrical
impressionism. Of all the composers who have essayed tonal
transcriptions of the phases of the outer world, I know of none who
has achieved such vividness and suggestiveness of effect with a
similar condensation. The form is small; but these pieces are no more
justly to be dismissed as mere "miniature work" than is Wordsworth's
"Daffodils," which they parallel in delicacy of perception, intensity
of vision, and perfection of accomplishment. The question of bulk,
length, size, has quite as much pertinence in one case as in the
other. In his work in this sort, MacDowell is often as one who, having
fallen, through the ignominies of daily life, among the barren
makeshifts of reality, "remembers the enchanted valleys." It is
touched at times with the deep and wistful tenderness, the primæval
nostalgia, which is never very distant from the mood of his writing,
and in which, again, one is tempted to trace the essential Celt. It is
this close kinship with the secret presences of the natural world,
this intimate responsiveness to elemental moods, this quick
sensitiveness to the aroma and the magic of places, that sets him
recognisably apart.

If in the "Indian" suite MacDowell disclosed the full maturity of his
powers of imaginative and structural design, it is in the "Woodland
Sketches" (op. 51) that his speech, freed from such incumbrances as
were imposed upon it by his deliberate adoption of an exotic idiom,
assumes for the first time some of its most engaging and distinctive
characteristics. Consider, for example, number eight of the group, "A
Deserted Farm." Here is the quintessence of his style in one of its
most frequent aspects. The manner has a curious simplicity, yet it
would be difficult to say in what, precisely, the simplicity consists;
it has striking individuality,--yet the particular trait in which it
resides is not easily determined. The simplicity is certainly not of
the harmonic plan, nor of the melodic outline, which are subtly yet
frankly conceived; and the individuality does not lie in any
eccentricity or determined novelty of effect. Both the flavour of
simplicity and of personality are, one concludes, more a spiritual
than an anatomical possession of the music. Its quality is as
intangible and pervasive as that dim magic of "unremembering
remembrance" that is awakened in some by the troubling tides of
spring; it is apparently as unsought for as are the naive utterances
of folk-song. It is his unfailing charm, and it is everywhere manifest
in his later work: that spontaneity and _insouciance_, that utter
absence of self-consciousness, which is in nothing so surprising as in
its serene antithesis to what one has come to accept--too readily, it
may be--as the dominant accent of musical modernity.

These pieces have an inescapable fragrance, tenderness, and zest. "To
a Wild Rose," "Will o' the Wisp," "In Autumn," "From Uncle Remus," and
"By a Meadow Brook" are slight in poetic substance, though executed
with charm and humour; but the five other pieces--"At an Old Trysting
Place," "From an Indian Lodge," "To a Water-lily," "A Deserted Farm,"
and "Told at Sunset"--are of a different calibre. With the exception
of "To a Water-lily," whose quality is uncomplex and unconcealed,
these tone-poems in little are a curious blend of what, lacking an
apter name, one must call nature-poetry, and psychological suggestion;
and they are remarkable for the manner in which they focus great
richness of emotion into limited space. "At an Old Trysting Place,"
"From an Indian Lodge," "A Deserted Farm," and "Told at Sunset," imply
a consecutive dramatic purpose which is emphasised by their connection
through a hint of thematic community. The element of drama, though, is
not insisted upon--indeed, a large portion of the searching charm of
these pieces lies in their tactful reticence.

In the "Sea Pieces" of op. 55 a larger impulse is at work. The set
comprises eight short pieces, few of them over two pages in length;
yet they are modelled upon ample lines, and they have, in a
conspicuous degree, that property to which I have alluded--the
property of suggesting within a limited framework an emotional or
dramatic content of large and far-reaching significance. I spoke in an
earlier chapter, in this connection, of the first of these pieces, "To
the Sea." I must repeat that this tone-poem seems to me one of the
most entirely admirable things in the literature of the piano; and it
is typical, in the main, of the volume. MacDowell is one of the
comparatively few composers who have been thrall to the spell of the
sea; none, I think, has felt that spell more irresistibly or has
communicated it with more conquering an eloquence. This music is full
of the glamour, the awe, the mystery, of the sea; of its sinister and
terrible beauty, but also of its tonic charm, its secret allurement.
Here is sea poetry to match with that of Whitman and Swinburne. The
music is drenched in salt-spray, wind-swept, exhilarating. There are
pages in it through which rings the thunderous laughter of the sea in
its mood of cosmic and terrifying elation, and there are pages through
which drift sun-painted mists--mists that both conceal and disclose
enchanted vistas and apparitions. There is an exhilaration even in his
titles (which he has supplemented with mottos): as "To the Sea," "From
a Wandering Iceberg," "Starlight," "From the Depths," "In Mid-Ocean."
I make no concealment of my unqualified admiration for these pieces:
with the sonatas, the "Dirge" from the "Indian" suite, and certain of
the "Woodland Sketches," they record, I think, his high-water mark. He
has carried them through with superb gusto, with unwearying
imaginative fervour. In "To the Sea," "From the Depths," and "In
Mid-Ocean," it is the sea of Whitman's magnificent apostrophe that he
celebrates--the sea of

  "brooding scowl and murk,"


  "unloosed hurricanes,"

speaking, imperiously,

  "with husky-haughty lips";

while elsewhere, as in the "Wandering Iceberg" and "Nautilus" studies,
the pervading tone is of Swinburne's

  "deep divine dark dayshine of the sea."

"Starlight" is of a brooding and solemn tenderness. The "Song" and
"A.D. MDCXX." (a memoir of the notorious galleon of the Pilgrims) are
in a lighter vein. The tonal plangency, the epic quality, of these
studies is extraordinary,--exposing a tendency toward an orchestral
fulness and breadth of style that will offer a more pertinent theme
for comment in a consideration of the sonatas. Their littleness is
wholly a quantitative matter; their spiritual and imaginative
substance is not only of rare quality, but of striking amplitude.

We come now to the final volumes in the series of what one may as well
call pianistic "nature-studies": the "Fireside Tales" (op. 61) and
"New England Idyls" (op. 62), which, together with the songs of op.
60, constitute the last of his published works (they were all issued
in 1902). In these last piano pieces there is a new quality, an
unaccustomed accent. One notes it on the first page of the opening
number of the "Fireside Tales," "An Old Love Story," where the voice
of the composer seems to have taken on an unfamiliar _timbre_. There
is here a turn of phrase, a quality of sentiment, which are notably
fresh and strange. There is in this, and in "By Smouldering Embers," a
graver tenderness, a more pervasive sobriety, than he had revealed
before. Read over the D-flat major section of "An Old Love Story."
Throughout MacDowell's previous work one will find no passage quite
like it in contour and emotion. It is quieter, more ripely poised,
than anything in his earlier manner that I can recall. "Of Br'er
Rabbit," "From a German Forest," "Of Salamanders," and "A Haunted
House," are in his familiar vein; but again the new note is sounded in
the concluding number of the book, "By Smouldering Embers."

In the "New England Idyls," the point is still more evident. One
passes over "From an Old Garden" and "Midsummer" as belonging
fundamentally to the period of the "Woodland Sketches" and "Sea
Pieces." But one halts at "Mid-Winter," No. 3 of the collection; with
those fifteen bars in E-flat major in the middle section, one enters
upon unfamiliar ground in the various and delectable region of
MacDowell's fantasy. So in the succeeding piece, "With Sweet
Lavender": he had not given us in any of his former writing a theme
similar in quality to the one with which he begins the thirteenth bar.
"In Deep Woods" is less unusual--is, in fact, strongly suggestive, in
harmonic colour, of the shining sonorities of the "Wandering Iceberg"
study in the "Sea Pieces." The "Indian Idyl," "To an Old White Pine,"
and "From Puritan Days" are also contrived in the familiar idiom of
the earlier volumes, though they are unfailingly resourceful in
invention and imaginative vigour. In "From a Log Cabin," though, we
come upon as surprising a thing as MacDowell's art had yielded us
since the appearance of the "Woodland Sketches." I doubt if, in the
entire body of his writing, one will find a lovelier, a more intimate
utterance. It bears as a motto the words--strangely prophetic when he
wrote them--which are now inscribed on the memorial tablet near his

  "A house of dreams untold,
  It looks out over the whispering tree-tops
  And faces the setting sun."


The music of this piece is suffused with a mood that is Schumann-like
in its intense sincerity of impulse, yet with a passionate fulness and
ardour not elsewhere to be paralleled. It is steeped in an atmosphere
which is felt in no other of his works, is the issue of an inspiration
more profoundly contemplative than any to which he had hitherto



MacDowell never hesitated, as I have elsewhere said, to adapt--some
would say "warp"--the sonata form to the needs of his poetic purposes.
Moreover, he declared his convictions as to the considerations which
should govern its employment. "If the composer's ideas do not
imperatively demand treatment in that [the sonata] form," he has
observed--"that is, if his first theme is not actually dependent upon
his second and side themes for its poetic fulfilment--he has not
composed a sonata movement, but a potpourri, which the form only
aggravates." There can be little question of the success which has
attended his application of this principle to his own performances in
this field, nor of the skill and tact with which he has reshaped the
form in accordance with his chosen poetic or dramatic scheme.

His four sonatas belong undeniably, though with a variously strict
allegiance, to the domain of programme-music. Neither the "Tragica,"
the "Eroica," the "Norse," nor the "Keltic," makes its appeal
exclusively to the tonal sense. If one looks to these works for the
particular kind of gratification which he is accustomed to derive, for
example, from a sonata by Brahms (to name the most extreme of
contrasts), he will not find it. It is impossible fully to appreciate
and enjoy the last page of the "Keltic," for instance, without some
knowledge of the dramatic crisis upon which the musician has
built--although its beauty and power, as sheer music, are immediately

With the exception of the "Tragica," the poetic substratum of the
sonatas has been avowed with more or less particularity. In the
"Tragica"--his first essay in the form--he has vouchsafed only the
general indication of his purpose which is declared in the title of
the work, though it is known that in composing the music MacDowell was
moved by the memory of his grief over the death of his master Raff (it
might stand even more appropriately as a commentary on the tragedy of
his own life). The tragic note is sounded, with impressive authority
and force, in the brief introduction, _largo maestoso_. The music,
from the first, drives to the very heart of the subject: there is
neither pose nor bombast in the presentation of the thought; and this
attitude is maintained throughout--in the ingratiating loveliness of
the second subject, in the fierce striving of the middle section, in
the noble and sombre slow movement,--a _largo_ of profound pathos and
dignity,--and in the dramatic and impassioned close (the scherzo is, I
think, less good). Of this final _allegro_ an exposition has been
vouchsafed. While in the preceding movements, it is said, he aimed at
expressing tragic details, in the last he has tried to generalise. He
wished "to heighten the darkness of tragedy by making it follow
closely on the heels of triumph. Therefore, he attempted to make the
last movement a steadily progressive triumph, which, at its close, is
utterly broken and shattered, thinking that the most poignant tragedy
is that of catastrophe in the hour of triumph.... In doing this he has
tried to epitomise the whole work." The meaning of the _coda_ is thus
made clear: a climax approached with the utmost pomp and brilliancy,
and cut short by a _precipitato_ descent in octaves, _fff_, ending
with a reminiscence of the portentous subject of the introduction. It
is a profoundly moving conclusion to a noble work--a work which Mr.
James Huneker has not extravagantly called "the most marked
contribution to solo sonata literature since Brahms' F-minor piano
sonata"; yet it is not so fine a work as any one of the three sonatas
which MacDowell afterward wrote. The style evinces, for the first time
in his piano music, the striking orchestral character of his
thought--yet the writing is not, paradoxical as it may seem,
unpianistic. The suggestion of orchestral relationships is contained
in the massiveness of the harmonic texture, and in the cumulative
effect of the climaxes and crescendi. He conveys an impression of
extended tone-spaces, of a largeness, complexity, and solidity of
structure, which are peculiar to his own music, and which presuppose a
rather disdainful view of the limitations of mere strings and hammers;
yet it is all playable: its demands are formidable, but not


In 1895 MacDowell published his "Sonata Eroica" (op. 50), and those
who had wondered how he could better his performance in the "Tragica"
received a fresh demonstration of the extent of his gifts. For these
sonatas of his constitute an ascending series, steadily progressive in
excellence of substance and workmanship. They are, on the whole, I
think it will be determined, his most significant and important
contribution to musical art. The "Eroica" bears the motto, "Flos
regum Arthuris," and as a further index to its content MacDowell has
given this explanation: "While not exactly programme music,"[14] he
says, "I had in mind the Arthurian legend when writing this work. The
first movement typifies the coming of Arthur. The scherzo was
suggested by a picture of Doré showing a knight in the woods
surrounded by elves. The third movement was suggested by my idea of
Guinevere. That following represents the passing of Arthur." MacDowell
had intended to inscribe the scherzo: "After Doré"; but he finally
thought better of this because, as he told Mr. N.J. Corey, "the
superscription seemed to single it out too much from the other
movements." Concerning this movement Mr. Corey writes: "The passage
which it [the Doré picture] illustrates, may be found in [Tennyson's]
_Guinevere_, in the story of the little novice, following a few lines
after the well known 'Late, late, so late!' poem. I always had a
little feeling," continues Mr. Corey, "that the sonata would have been
stronger, from a programme standpoint, with this movement
omitted--that it had perhaps been included largely as a concession to
the traditions of sonata form. The fact that no scherzos were included
in the two sonatas that followed, strengthened my opinion in regard to
this. I questioned him in regard to it later when I saw him in New
York, and he replied that it was a matter over which he had pondered
considerably, and one which had influenced him in the composition of
the last two sonatas, as the insertion of a scherzo in such a scheme
did seem something like an interruption, or 'aside.'"

[14] It must be confessed that this qualification is a little
difficult to grasp. Is not the sonata dependent for its complete
understanding upon a knowledge of its literary basis? MacDowell
exhibits here the half-heartedness which I have elsewhere remarked
in his attitude toward representative music.

In this sonata MacDowell has been not only faithful to his text, he
has illuminated it. Indeed, I think it would not be extravagant to say
that he has given us here the noblest musical incarnation of the
Arthurian legend which we have. It is singular, by the way, how
frequently one is impelled to use the epithet "noble" in praising
MacDowell's work; in reference to the "Sonata Eroica" it has an
emphatic aptness, for nobility is the keynote of this music. If the
work, as a whole, has not the dynamic power of the "Tragica," the
weight and gravity of substance, it is both a lovelier and a more
lovable work, and it is everywhere more significantly accented. He has
written few things more luxuriantly beautiful than the "Guinevere"
movement, nothing more elevated and ecstatic than the apotheosis which
ends the work. The diction throughout is richer and more variously
contrasted than in the earlier work, and his manipulation of the form
is more elastic.

Apparent as is the advance of the "Eroica" over its predecessor, the
difference between these and the two later sonatas--the "Norse" and
the "Keltic"--is even more marked. The first of these, the "Norse"
sonata (op. 57) appeared five years after the publication of the
"Eroica." In the interval he had put forth the "Woodland Sketches,"
the "Sea Pieces," and the songs of op. 56 and op. 58; and he had,
evidently, examined deeply into the resources and potentialities of
his art. He had hitherto done nothing quite like these two later
sonatas; they are based upon larger and more intricate plans than
their predecessors, are more determined and confident in their
expression of personality, riper in style and far freer in form: they
are, in fact, MacDowell at his most salient and distinguished. He has
placed these lines of his own on the first page of the score of the
"Norse" (which is dedicated to Grieg):

  "Night had fallen on a day of deeds.
  The great rafters in the red-ribbed hall
  Flashed crimson in the fitful flame
  Of smouldering logs;
  And from the stealthy shadows
  That crept 'round Harald's throne
  Rang out a Skald's strong voice
  With tales of battles won:
  Of Gudrun's love
  And Sigurd, Siegmund's son."

Here, evidently, is a subject after his own heart, presenting such
opportunities as he is at his happiest in improving--and he has
improved them magnificently. The spaciousness of the plan, the boldness
of the drawing, the fulness and intensity of the colour scheme, engage
one's attention at the start. He has indulged almost to its extreme
limits his predilection for extended chord formations and for phrases
of heroic span--as in, for example, almost the whole of the first
movement. The pervading quality of the musical thought is of a
resistless and passionate virility. It is steeped in the barbaric and
splendid atmosphere of the sagas. There are pages of epical breadth and
power, passages of elemental vigour and ferocity--passages, again, of
an exquisite tenderness and poignancy. Of the three movements which the
work comprises, the first makes the most lasting impression, although
the second (the slow movement) has a haunting subject, which is
recalled episodically in the final movement in a passage of
unforgettable beauty and character.

With the publication, in 1901, of the "Keltic" sonata (his fourth, op.
59),[15] MacDowell achieved a conclusive demonstration of his capacity
as a creative musician of unquestionable importance. Not before had he
given so convincing an earnest of the larger aspect of his genius:
neither in the three earlier sonatas, in the "Sea Pieces," nor in the
"Indian" suite, had he attained an equal magnitude, an equal scope and
significance. Nowhere else in his work are the distinguishing traits
of his genius so strikingly disclosed--the breadth and reach of
imagination, the magnetic vitality, the richness and fervour, the
conquering poetic charm. Here you will find a beauty which is as "the
beauty of the men that take up spears and die for a name," no less
than "the beauty of the poets that take up harp and sorrow and the
wandering road"--a harp shaken with a wild and piercing music, a
sorrow that is not of to-day, but of a past when dreams were actual
and imperishable, and men lived the tales of beauty and of wonder
which now are but a discredited and fading memory.

[15] Dedicated, like the "Norse," to Grieg.

It was a fortunate, if not an inevitable, event, in view of his
temperamental affiliations with the Celtic genius, that MacDowell
should have been made aware of the suitability for musical treatment
of the ancient heroic chronicles of the Gaels, and that he should
have gone for his inspiration, in particular, to the legends
comprised in the famous Cycle of the Red Branch: that wonderful group
of epics which comprises, among other tales, the story of the
matchless Deirdré,--whose loveliness was such, so say the
chroniclers, that "not upon the ridge of earth was there a woman so
beautiful,"--and the life and adventures and glorious death of the
incomparable Cuchullin. These two kindred legends MacDowell has
welded into a coherent and satisfying whole; and in a verse with
which he prefixes the sonata, he gives this index to its poetic

  "Who minds now Keltic tales of yore,
    Dark Druid rhymes that thrall;
  Deirdré's song, and wizard lore
    Of great Cuchullin's fall."

At the time of the publication of the sonata he wrote to me as
follows concerning it:

    "... Here is the sonata, which it is a pleasure to me to offer you
    as a token of sympathy. I enclose also some lines [of his own
    verse] anent Cuchullin, which, however, do not entirely fit the
    music, and which I hope to use in another musical form. They may
    serve, however, to aid the understanding of the _stimmung_ of
    the sonata. Cuchullin's story is in touch with the Deirdré-Naesi
    tale; and, as with my 3rd Sonata, the music is more a commentary
    on the subject than an actual depiction of it."


The "lines anent Cuchullin" I quote below. They do not, as he said,
have a parallel in the sonata as a whole; but in the _coda_ of the
last movement (of which I shall speak later) he has attempted a
commentary on the scene which he here describes:

  "Cuchullin fought and fought in vain,
  'Gainst faery folk and Druid thrall:
  And as the queenly sun swept down.
  In royal robes, red gold besown,
  With one last lingering glance
  He sate himself in lonely state
  Against a giant monolith,
  To wait Death's wooing call.
  None dared approach the silent shape
  That froze to iron majesty,
  Save the wan, mad daughters of old Night,
  Blind, wandering maidens of the mist,
  Whose creeping fingers, cold and white,
  Oft by the sluggard dead are kissed.
  And yet the monstrous Thing held sway,
  No living soul dared say it nay;
  When lo! upon its shoulder still,
  Unconscious of its potent will,
  There perched a preening birdling gray,
  A'weary of the dying day;
  And all the watchers knew the lore:
  Cuchullin was no more."

To Mr. Corey MacDowell wrote:

    "... Even though you are not on intimate terms with Deirdré,
    Cuchullin, etc., you will easily perceive from the music that
    something extremely unpleasant is happening. Joking aside, I will
    confess to a certain fascination the subject has for me. So much
    so that my 'motto' [the original motto--the verses which I have
    quoted above] spread beyond the music; therefore I am going to
    make a different work of the former, and for the sonata I adopted
    the modest quatrain that is printed in it.... Like the third,
    this fourth sonata is more of a 'bardic' rhapsody on the subject
    than an attempt at actual presentation of it, although I have
    made use of all the suggestion of tone-painting in my power,--just
    as the bard would have reinforced _his_ speech with gesture
    and facial expression."

He aimed to make his music, as he says, "more a commentary on the
subject than an actual depiction of it"; but the case would be stated
more truly, I think, if one were to say that he has penetrated to the
heart of the entire body of legends, has imbued himself with their
ultimate spirit and significance, and has bodied it forth in his music
with splendid veracity and eloquence. He has attempted no mere musical
recounting of those romances of the ancient Gaelic world at which he
hints in his brief motto. It would be juster to say, rather, that he
has recalled in his music the very life and presence of the Gaelic
prime--that he has "unbound the Island harp." Above all, he has
achieved that "heroic beauty" which, believes Mr. Yeats, has been
fading out of the arts since "that decadence we call progress set
voluptuous beauty in its place"--that heroic beauty which is of the
very essence of the imaginative life of the primitive Celts, and which
the Celtic "revival" in contemporary letters has so signally failed to
revive. For it is, I repeat, the heroic Gaelic world that MacDowell
has made to live again in his music: that miraculous world of
stupendous passions and aspirations, of bards and heroes and great
adventure--the world of Cuchullin the Unconquerable, and Laeg, and
Queen Meave; of Naesi, and Deirdré the Beautiful, and Fergus, and
Connla the Harper, and those kindred figures, lovely or greatly
tragical, that are like no other figures in the world's mythologies.

This sonata marks the consummation of his evolution toward the acme of
powerful expression. It is cast in a mould essentially heroic; it has
its moods of tenderness, of insistent sweetness, but these are
incidental: the governing mood is signified in the tremendous exordium
with which the work opens, and which is sustained, with few
deviations, throughout the work. Deirdré he has realised exquisitely
in his middle movement: that is her image, in all its fragrant
loveliness. MacDowell has limned her musically in a manner worthy of
comparison with the sumptuous pen-portrait of her in Standish
O'Grady's "Cuculain": "a woman of wondrous beauty, bright gold her
hair, eyes piercing and splendid, tongue full of sweet sounds, her
countenance like the colour of snow blended with crimson."

In the close of the last movement we are justified in seeing a
translation of the sublime tradition of Cuchullin's death. This it is
which furnished MacDowell with the theme that he celebrates in the
lines of verse which I have quoted above. I believe that he was
planning an orchestral setting of this scene; and that, had he lived,
we should have had from him a symphonic poem, "Cuchullin."

The manner of the hero's death is thus described by Standish O'Grady:
"Cuculain sprang forth, but as he sprang, Lewy MacConroi pierced him
through the bowels. Then fell the great hero of the Gael. Thereat the
sun darkened, and the earth trembled ... when, with a crash, fell that
pillar of heroism, and that flame of the warlike valour of Erin was
extinguished.... Then Cuculain, raising his eyes, saw thence
northwards from the lake a tall pillar-stone, the grave of a warrior
slain there in some ancient war. With difficulty he reached it and he
leaned awhile against the pillar, for his mind wandered, and he knew
nothing for a space. After that he took off his brooch, and removing
the torn bratta [girdle], he passed it round the top of the pillar,
where there was an indentation in the stone, and passed the ends under
his arms and around his breast, tying with languid hands a loose knot,
which soon was made fast by the weight of the dying hero; thus they
beheld him standing with the drawn sword in his hand, and the rays of
the setting sun bright on his panic-striking helmet. So stood
Cuculain, even in death-pangs, a terror to his enemies, for a deep
spring of stern valour was opened in his soul, and the might of his
unfathomable spirit sustained him. Thus perished Cuculain ..."

Superb as this is, it is paralleled by MacDowell's tone-picture. That,
for nobility of conception, for majestic solemnity and pathos, is a
musical performance which measures up to the level of superlative

If there is anything in the literature of the piano since the death of
Beethoven which, for combined passion, dignity, breadth of style,
weight of momentum, and irresistible plangency of emotion, is
comparable to the four sonatas which have been considered here, I do
not know of it. And I write these words with a perfectly definite
consciousness of all that they may be held to imply.



Any one who should undertake casually to examine MacDowell's songs
_seriatim_, beginning with his earliest listed work in this form--the
"Two Old Songs," op. 9--would not improbably be struck by an apparent
lack of continuity and logic in the initial stages of his artistic
development. At first glance, MacDowell seems to have attained a
phenomenal ripeness and individuality of expression in these songs,
which head the catalogue of his published works; whereas the songs of
the following opus (11-12) are conventional and unimportant. The
explanation, which I have elsewhere intimated, is simple. The songs of
op. 11 and 12, issued in 1883, were the first of his _Lieder_ to appear
in print; the songs numbered op. 9, which would appear to antedate
them in composition and publication, were not written until a decade
later, when they were issued under an arbitrary opus number as a
matter of expediency. Their proper place in MacDowell's musical
history is, therefore, about synchronous with the mature and
characteristic "Eight Songs" of op. 47. From the five songs now
published in one volume as op. 11 and 12, the progress of MacDowell's
art as a song writer is both steady and intelligible.

He has not been especially prolific in this field, when one thinks of
Grieg's one hundred and twenty songs, and of Brahms' one hundred and
ninety-six; not to mention Schumann's two hundred and forty-eight, or
Schubert's amazing six hundred and over. MacDowell has written
forty-two songs for single voice and piano, together with a number of
ingenious and effective pieces for men's voices and for mixed chorus.

He has avowed his methods and principles as a song writer. In an
interview published a few years before his death he declared his
opinion to be that "song writing should follow declamation"--that the
composer "should declaim the poems in sounds: the attention of the
hearer should be fixed upon the central point of declamation. The
accompaniment should be merely a background for the words. Harmony is
a frightful den for the small composer to get into--it leads him into
frightful nonsense. Too often the accompaniment of a song becomes a
piano fantasie with no resemblance to the melody. Colour and harmony
under such conditions mislead the composer; he uses it instead of the
line which he at the moment is setting, and obscures the central
point, the words, by richness of tissue and overdressing; and all
modern music is labouring under that. He does not seem to pause to
think that music was not made merely for pleasure, but to say things.

"Language and music have nothing in common. In one way, that which is
melodious in verse becomes doggerel in music, and meter is hardly of
value. Sonnets in music become abominable. I have made many
experiments for finding the affinity of language and music. The two
things are diametrically opposed, unless music is free to distort
syllables. A poem may be of only four words, and yet those four words
may contain enough suggestion for four pages of music; but to found a
song on those four words would be impossible. For this reason the
paramount value of the poem is that of its suggestion in the field of
instrumental music, where a single line may be elaborated upon....
To me, in this respect, the poem holds its highest value of
suggestion.... A short poem would take a lifetime to express; to do
it in as many bars of music is impossible. The words clash with the
music, they fail to carry the full suggestion of the poem ...

"Many poems contain syllables ending with _e_ or other letters not
good to sing. Some exceptionally beautiful poems possess this
shortcoming, and, again, words that prove insurmountable obstacles. I
have in mind one by Aldrich in which the word 'nostrils' occurs in the
very first verse, and one cannot do anything with it. Much of the
finest poetry--for instance, the wonderful writings of Whitman--proves
unsuitable, yet it has been undertaken....

"A song, if at all dramatic, should have climax, form, and plot, as
does a play. Words to me seem so paramount and, as it were, apart in
value from the musical setting, that, while I cannot recall the
melodies of many of the songs that I have written, the words of them
are so indelibly impressed upon my mind that they are very easy of
recall.... Music and poetry cannot be accurately stated unless one has
written both."

It is clear that these are the views of a composer who placed
veracious declamation of the poetic idea very much to the front in his
conception of the art of the song-writer. They explain in part, also,
the fact that MacDowell himself wrote the words of many of his songs,
though, quite characteristically, he did not avow the fact in the
printed music. The verses of all the songs of op. 56, save one, op.
58, and op. 60 (the last three sets that he wrote), of the "Slumber
Song" of op. 9, of "The Robin Sings in the Apple Tree," "Confidence,"
and "The West Wind Croons in the Cedar Trees" (op. 47), and of some of
the choruses, were of his authorship. He enjoyed what he called
"stringing words together," and most of his verses were written
off-hand, with a facility which betrayed the marked gift for verbal
expression which is apparent in his often admirably stated lectures.
But his especial reason for writing the words for his songs was his
difficulty hi finding texts which quite suited him. Many poems which
he would have liked to set were, as he explained in the words I have
quoted, full of snags in the way of unsingable words. And though it
used to make him uncomfortable to do so, he often felt compelled for
this reason to refuse much otherwise excellent poetry that was sent to
him with the request that he use it for music. Some of the verse that
he wrote for use in his songs is of uncommon quality--imaginative,
distinguished in diction, and, above all, perfectly suited to musical
utterance. Of uncommon quality, too, are some of the brief verses
which he used as mottos for certain of his later piano pieces--as for
the "Sea Pieces" and "New England Idyls."

That his songs, as a whole, are comparable in inherent artistic
consequence with his sonatas, or with such things as the "Woodland
Sketches," the "Sea Pieces," and the "New England Idyls," I do not
believe, although I readily grant the beauty and fascination of many
passages, and of certain pages in which he is incontestably at the
height of his powers. Here, as in his writing for piano and for
orchestra, one will find abundant evidence of his distinguishing
traits--sensitiveness and fervour of imagination, a lovely and
intimate sense of romance, whimsical and piquant humour, virility,
passion, an unerring instinct for atmospheric suggestion. But there
are times when, despite his avowed principles in the matter, he
sacrifices truth of declamation to the presumed requirements of
melodic design--when he seems to pay more heed to the unrelated effect
of tonal contours than to the dramatic or emotional needs of his text.
As an instance of his not infrequent indifference to justness of
declamatory utterance, examine his setting of "in those brown eyes,"
at the bottom of the last page of "Confidence" (op. 47), and of the
word "without" in the fourth bar of "Tyrant Love" (op. 60). I dwell
upon this point, not in any spirit of captiousness, I need scarcely
say, but because it exemplifies a fairly persistent characteristic of
MacDowell's style as a song writer.

Of that other trait to which I have referred--his not exceptional
preoccupation with a purely musical plan at the expense of dramatic
and emotional congruity--the attentive observer will not want for
examples in almost any of MacDowell's song-groups. As a single
instance, I may allege the run in eighth-notes which encumbers the
setting of the second syllable of the word "again," in the fourth bar
of "Springtide" (op. 60). Such infelicities are difficult to account
for in the work of a musician so exceedingly sensitive in matters of
poetic fitness as he. It may be that his acute sense of dramatic and
emotional values operated perfectly only when he was unhampered by the
thought of the voice.

I have dwelt upon this point because it should be noted in any candid
study of his traits as a song writer. Yet it is not a defect which
weighs heavily against him when one considers the musical quality of
his songs as a whole. Not, as a whole, equal to his piano music, they
are admirable and deeply individual; and the best of them are not
surpassed in any body of modern song-writing.


In almost all of his songs the voice is predominant over the piano
part--although he is far, indeed, from writing mere accompaniments:
the support which he gives the voice is consistently important, for he
brings to bear upon it all his rich resources of harmonic expression.
But though he makes the voice the paramount element, he uses it, in
general, rather as a vehicle for the unconscious exposition of a
determined lyricism than as an instrument of precise emotional
utterance. When one thinks of how Hugo Wolf, for example, or Debussy,
would have treated the phrase, "to wake again the bitter joy of love,"
in "Fair Springtide," it will be felt, I think, that MacDowell's
setting leaves something to be desired on the score of emotional
verity, although the song, as a whole, is one of the loveliest and
most spontaneous he has written. I do not mean to say that he does not
often achieve an ideal correspondence between the significance of his
text and the effect of his music; but when he does--as in, for
instance, that superb tragedy in little, "The Sea,"[16] or in the
still finer "Sunrise"[17]--one's impression is that it is the
fortunate result of chance, rather than the outcome of deliberate
artistic purpose. It is in songs of an untrammelled lyricism that his
art finds its chief opportunity. In such he is both delightful and
satisfying--in, for instance, the six flower songs, "From an Old
Garden"; in "Confidence" and "In the Woods" (op. 47); in "The Swan
Bent Low to the Lily," "A Maid Sings Light," and "Long Ago" (op. 56);
and in the delectable "To the Golden Rod," from his last song group
(op. 60). This is music of blithe and captivating allurement, of grave
or riant tenderness, of compelling fascination; and in it, the word
and the tone are ideally mated. Yet even in others of his songs in
which they do not so invariably correspond, one must acknowledge
gladly the beauty and freshness of the music itself: such music as he
has given us in "Constancy" (op. 58), in "As the Gloaming Shadows
Creep" (op. 56), in "Fair Springtide"--which represent his ripest
utterances as a song writer. If he is not, in this particular form,
quite at his happiest, he is among the foremost of those who have kept
alive in the modern tradition the conception of the song as a medium
of lyric utterance no less than of precise dramatic signification.

[16] No. VII. of the "Eight Songs," op. 47.

[17] Op. 58, No. II.



To gain a true sense of MacDowell's place in American music it is
necessary to remember that twenty-five years ago, when he sent from
Germany, as the fruit of his apprenticeship there, the earliest
outgivings of his talent, our native musical art was still little
more than a pallid reproduction of European models. MacDowell did
not at that time, of course, give positive evidence of the vitality
and the rarity of his gifts; yet there was, even in his early
music,--undeniably immature though it was, and modelled after easily
recognised Teutonic masters,--a fresh and untrammelled impulse. A new
note vibrated through it, a new and buoyant personality suffused it.
Thenceforth music in America possessed an artistic figure of
constantly increasing stature. MacDowell commanded, from the start,
an original idiom, a manner of speech which has been recognised even
by his detractors as entirely his own.

His style is as pungent and unmistakable as Grieg's, and far less
limited in its variety. Hearing certain melodic turns, certain
harmonic formations, you recognise them at once as belonging to
MacDowell, and to none other. This marked individuality of speech,
apparent from the first, became constantly more salient and more
vivid, and in the music which he gave forth at the height of his
creative activity,--in, say, the "Sea Pieces" and the last two
sonatas,--it is unmistakable and beyond dispute. This emphatically
personal accent it was which, a score of years ago, set MacDowell in a
place apart among native American music-makers. No one else was saying
such charming and memorable things in so fresh and individual a way.
We had then, as we have had since, composers who were entitled to
respect by virtue of their expert and effective mastery of a familiar
order of musical expression,--who spoke correctly a language acquired
in the schools of Munich, Leipzig, and Berlin. But they had nothing to
say that was both important and new. They had grace, they had
dexterity, they had, in a measure, scholarship; but their art was
obviously derivative, without originality of substance or a telling
quality of style. It is not a needlessly harsh asseveration to say
that, until MacDowell began to put forth his more individual works,
our music had been palpably, almost frankly, dependent: an undisguised
and naïve transplantation, made rather feeble and anæmic in the
process, of European growths. The result was admirable, in its way,
praiseworthy, in its way--and wholly negligible.

The music of MacDowell was, almost from the first, in a wholly
different case. In its early phases it, too, was imitative,
reflective. MacDowell returned to America, after a twelve years'
apprenticeship to European influences, in 1888, bringing with him his
symphonic poems, "Hamlet and Ophelia" and "Lancelot and Elaine," his
unfinished "Lamia," his two orchestral paraphrases of scenes from the
Song of Roland, two concertos, and numerous songs and piano pieces.
Not greatly important music, this, measured beside that which he
afterward put forth; but possessing an individual profile, a savour, a
tang, which gave it an immediately recognised distinction. A new voice
spoke out of it, a fresh and confident, an eloquent and forceful,
voice. It betrayed Germanic influences: of that there was no question;
yet it was strikingly rich in personal accent. Gradually his art came
to find, through various forms, a constantly finer and weightier
expression. For orchestra he wrote the "Indian" suite--music of superb
vigour, fantastically and deeply imaginative, wholly personal in
quality; for the piano he wrote four sonatas of heroic and passionate
content--indisputable masterworks--and various shorter pieces, free in
form and poetic in inspiration; and he wrote many songs, some of them
quite flawless in their loveliness and their emotional veracity.

It will thus be seen why the potent and aromatic art of MacDowell
impressed those who were able to feel its charm and estimate its
value. It is mere justice to him, now that he has definitely passed
beyond the reach of our praise, to say that he gave to the art of
creative music in this country (I am thinking now only of music-makers
of native birth) its single impressive and vital figure. His is the
one name in our music which, for instance, one would venture to pair
with that of Whitman in poetry.

An abundance of pregnant, beautiful, and novel ideas was his chief
possession, and he fashioned them into musical designs with great
skill and unflagging art. That he did not undertake adventures in all
of the forms of music, has been said. There is no symphony in the list
of his published works, no large choral composition. Yet he was far
from being a miniaturist,--he was, in fact, anything but that. His
four sonatas for the piano are planned upon truly heroic lines; they
are large in scope and of epical sweep and breadth; and his "Indian"
suite is the most impressive orchestral work composed by an American.
He wrote two piano concertos,--early works, not of his best
inspiration,--a large number of poetically descriptive smaller works,
and almost half a hundred songs of frequent loveliness and character.
The three symphonic poems, "Hamlet and Ophelia," "Lancelot and
Elaine," and "Lamia"; the two "fragments," "The Saracens," and "The
Lovely Aldâ," and the first orchestral suite, op. 42--which he might
have entitled "Sylvan"--complete the record of his output, save for
some spirited but not very important part-songs for male voices. The
list comprises sixty-two opus numbers and one hundred and eighty-six
separate compositions,--not a remarkable accomplishment, in point of
quantity, yet notable and rare in quality.

He suggested, at his best, no one save himself. He was one of the most
individual writers who ever made music--as individual as Chopin, or
Debussy, or Brahms, or Grieg. His mannner of speech was utterly
untrammelled, and wholly his own. Vitality--an abounding freshness, a
perpetual youthfulness--was one of his prime traits; nobility--nobility
of style and impulse--was another. The morning freshness, the welling
spontaneity of his music, even in moments of exalted or passionate
utterance, was continually surprising: it was music not unworthy of the
golden ages of the world. Yet MacDowell was a Celt, and his music is
deeply Celtic--mercurial, by turns dolorous and sportive, darkly
tragical and exquisitely blithe, and overflowing with the unpredictable
and inexplicable magic of the Celtic imagination. He is unfailingly
noble--it is, in the end, the trait which most surely signalises him.
"To every man," wrote Maeterlinck, "there come noble thoughts, thoughts
that pass across his heart like great white birds." Such thoughts came
often to MacDowell--they seem always to be hovering not far from the
particular territory to which his inspiration has led him, even when he
is most gayly inconsequent; and in his finest and largest utterances,
in the sonatas, their majestic trend appears somehow to have suggested
the sweeping and splendid flight of the musical idea. Not often subtle
in impulse or recondite in mood, his art has nothing of the
impalpability, the drifting, iridescent vapours of Debussy, nothing of
the impenetrable backgrounds of Brahms. He would have smiled at the
dictum of Emerson: "a beauty not explicable is dearer than a beauty of
which we can see the end." He knew how to evoke a kind of beauty that
was both aerial and enchanted; but it was a clarified and lucid beauty,
even then: it was never dim or wavering. He would never, as I have
said, have comprehended the art of such a writer as Debussy--he viewed
the universe from a wholly different angle. Of the moderns, Wagner he
worshipped, Tchaikovsky deeply moved him, Grieg he loved--Grieg, who
was his artistic inferior in almost every respect. Yet none of these so
seduced his imagination that his independence was overcome--he was
always, throughout his maturity, himself; not arrogantly or
insistently, but of necessity; he could not be otherwise.

What are the distinguishing traits, after all, of MacDowell's music?
The answer is not easily given. His music is characterised by great
buoyancy and freshness, by an abounding vitality, by a constantly
juxtaposed tenderness and strength, by a pervading nobility of tone
and feeling. It is charged with emotion, yet it is not brooding or
hectic, and it is seldom intricate or recondite in its psychology. It
is music curiously free from the fevers of sex. And here I do not wish
to be misunderstood. This music is anything but androgynous. It is
always virile, often passionate, and, in its intensest moments, full
of force and vigour. But the sexual impulse which underlies it is
singularly fine, strong, and controlled. The strange and burdened
winds, the subtle delirium, the disorder of sense, that stir at times
in the music of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, are not to be found
here. In Wagner, in certain songs by Debussy, one often feels, as
Pater felt in William Morris's "King Arthur's Tomb," the tyranny of a
moon which is "not tender and far-off, but close down--the sorcerer's
moon, large and feverish," and the presence of a colouring that is "as
of scarlet lilies"; and there is the suggestion of poison, with "a
sudden bewildered sickening of life and all things." In the music of
MacDowell there is no hint of these matters; there is rather the
infinitely touching emotion of those rare beings who are in their
interior lives both passionate and shy: they know desire and sorrow,
supreme ardour and enamoured tenderness; but they do not know either
the languor or the dementia of eroticism; they are haunted and swept
by beauty, but they are not sickened or oppressed by it. Nor is their
passion mystical and detached. MacDowell in his music is full-blooded,
but he is never febrile: in this (though certainly in nothing else) he
is like Brahms. The passion by which he is swayed is never, in its
expression, ambiguous or exotic, his sensuousness is never luscious.
It is difficult to think of a single passage from which that accent
upon which I have dwelt--the accent of nobility, of a certain
chivalry, a certain rare and spontaneous dignity--is absent. Yet he
can be, withal, wonderfully tender and deeply impassioned, with a
sharpness of emotion that is beyond denial. In such songs as
"Deserted" (op. 9); "Menie" (op. 34); "The Robin Sings in the Apple
Tree," "The West Wind Croons in the Cedar Trees" (op. 47); "The Swan
Bent Low to the Lily," "As the Gloaming Shadows Creep" (op. 56);
"Constancy" (op. 58); "Fair Springtide" (op. 60); in "Lancelot and
Elaine"; in "Told at Sunset," from the "Woodland Sketches"; in "An Old
Love Story," from "Fireside Tales": in this music the emotion is the
distinctive emotion of sex; but it is the sexual emotion known to
Burns rather than to Rossetti, to Schubert rather than to Wagner.

He had the rapt and transfiguring imagination, in the presence of
nature, which is the special possession of the Celt. Yet he was more
than a mere landscape painter. The human drama was for him a
continually moving spectacle; he was most sensitively attuned to its
tragedy and its comedy,--he was never more potent, more influential,
indeed, than in celebrating its events. He is at the summit of his
powers, for example, in the superb pageant of heroic grief and equally
heroic love which is comprised within the four movements of the
"Keltic" sonata, and in the piercing sadness and the transporting
tenderness of the "Dirge" in the "Indian" suite.

In its general aspect his later music is not German, or French, or
Italian--its spiritual antecedents are Northern, both Celtic and
Scandinavian. MacDowell had not the Promethean imagination, the
magniloquent passion, that are Strauss's; his art is far less
elaborate and subtle than that of such typical moderns as Debussy and
d'Indy. But it has an order of beauty that is not theirs, an order of
eloquence that is not theirs, a kind of poetry whose secrets they do
not know; and there speaks through it and out of it an individuality
that is persuasive, lovable, unique.

There is no need to attempt, at this juncture, to speculate concerning
his place among the company of the greater dead; it is enough to avow
the conviction that he possessed genius of a rare order, that he
wrought nobly and valuably for the art of the country which he loved.



Op. 9.   _Two Old Songs_, for voice and piano (1894)[18]:
           1. Deserted
           2. Slumber Song

[18] The publication dates given here are those of the original

Op. 10.  First _Modern Suite_, for piano (1883):
           Præladium--Presto--Andantino and

Op. 11.] _An Album of Five Songs_, for voice and piano
Op. 12.]   1. My Love and I
           2. You Love me Not
           3. In the Skies
           4. Night-Song
           5. Bands of Roses

Op. 13.  _Prelude and Fugue_, for piano (1883)

Op. 14.  _Second Modern Suite_, for piano (1883):

Op. 15.  _First Concerto_, in A-minor, for piano and orchestra (1885)

Op. 16.  _Serenata_, for piano (1883)

Op. 17.  _Two Fantastic Pieces_, for piano (1884):
           1. Legend
           2. Witches' Dance

Op. 18.  _Two Compositions_, for piano (1884):
           1. Barcarolle
           2. Humoresque

Op. 19.  _Forest Idyls_, for piano (1884):
           1. Forest Stillness
           2. Play of the Nymphs
           3. Revery
           4. Dance of the Dryads

Op. 20.  _Three Poems_, for piano, four hands (1886):
           1. Night at Sea
           2. A Tale of the Knights
           3. Ballad

Op. 21.  _Moon Pictures_, for piano, four hands (1886):
           1. The Hindoo Maiden
           2. Stork's Story
           3. In Tyrol
           4. The Swan
           5. Visit of the Bear

Op. 22.  _Hamlet and Ophelia_, symphonic poem for orchestra (1885)

Op. 23.  _Second Concerto_, in D-minor, for piano and orchestra

Op. 24.  _Four Compositions_, for piano (1887):
           1. Humoresque
           2. March
           3. Cradle Song
           4. Czardas

Op. 25.  _Lancelot and Elaine_, symphonic poem for orchestra (1888)

Op. 26.  _From an Old Garden_, for voice and piano (1887):
           1. The Pansy
           2. The Myrtle
           3. The Clover
           4. The Yellow Daisy
           5. The Blue Bell
           6. The Mignonette

Op. 27.  _Three Songs_, for male chorus (1890):
           1. In the Starry Sky Above Us
           2. Springtime
           3. The Fisherboy

Op. 28.  _Six Idyls after Goethe_, for piano (1887):
           1. In the Woods
           2. Siesta
           3. To the Moonlight
           4. Silver Clouds
           5. Flute Idyl
           6. The Bluebell

Op. 29.  _Lamia_, symphonic poem for orchestra (1908)[19]

[19] Posthumous.

Op. 30.  _The Saracens; The Lovely Aldâ_, two fragments
(after the Song of Roland), for orchestra (1891)

Op. 31.  _Six Poems after Heine_, for piano (1887):
           1. From a Fisherman's Hut
           2. Scotch Poem
           3. From Long Ago
           4. The Post Wagon
           5. The Shepherd Boy
           6. Monologue

Op. 32.  _Four Little Poems_, for piano (1888):
           1. The Eagle
           2. The Brook
           3. Moonshine
           4. Winter

Op. 33.  _Three Songs_, for voice and piano (1894):
           1. Prayer
           2. Cradle Hymn
           3. Idyl

Op. 34.  _Two Songs_, for voice and piano (1889):
           1. Menie
           2. My Jean

Op. 35.  _Romance_, for violoncello and orchestra (1888)

Op. 36.  _Étude de Concert_, in F-sharp, for piano (1889)

Op. 37.  _Les Orientales_, for piano (1889):
           1. Clair de Lune
           2. Dans le Hamac
           3. Danse Andalouse

Op. 38.  _Marionettes_, Eight Little Pieces, for piano (1888)[20]:
           1. Prologue
           2. Soubrette
           3. Lover
           4. Witch
           5. Clown
           6. Villain
           7. Sweetheart
           8. Epilogue

[20] In their original form this set comprised only six pieces.
MacDowell afterward revised them extensively, rearranged their order,
and added the "Prologue" and "Epilogue." In this altered form they
were published in 1901.

Op. 39.  _Twelve Studies_, for piano (1890):
           [ Hunting Song
           | Alla Tarantella
           | Romance
Book 1.    | Arabesque
           | In the Forest
           | Dance of the Gnomes]
           [ Idyl
           | Shadow Dance
Book 2.    | Intermezzo]
           | Melody
           | Scherzino
           | Hungarian]

Op. 40.  _Six Love Songs_, for voice and piano (1890):
           1. Sweet, Blue-eyed Maid
           2. Sweetheart, Tell Me
           3. Thy Beaming Eyes
           4. For Love's Sweet Sake
           5. O Lovely Rose
           6. I Ask but This

Op. 41.  _Two Songs_, for male chorus (1890):
           1. Cradle Song
           2. Dance of the Gnomes

Op. 42.  _First Suite_, for orchestra (1891-1893[21]):
           1. In a Haunted Forest
           2. Summer Idyl
           3. In October
           4. The Shepherdess' Song
           5. Forest Spirits

[21] As originally published, in 1891, this suite comprised only the
first, second, fourth, and fifth movements. The third, "In October,"
though composed at the same time as the others, and intended for
inclusion in the suite, was not published until 1893, when it was
issued as a "supplement" under the same opus number.

Op. 43.  _Two Northern Songs_, for mixed chorus (1891):
           1. The Brook
           2. Slumber Song

Op. 44.  _Barcarolle_, for mixed chorus with four-hand piano
accompaniment (1892)

Op. 45.  _Sonata Tragica_, for piano (1893)

Op. 46.  _Twelve Virtuoso Studies_, for piano (1894):
           1. Novelette
           2. Moto Perpetuo
           3. Wild Chase
           4. Improvisation
           5. Elfin Dance
           6. Valse triste
           7. Burleske
           8. Bluette
           9. Träumerei
          10. March Wind
          11. Impromptu
          12. Polonaise

Op. 47.  _Eight Songs_, for voice and piano (1893):
           1. The Robin Sings in the Apple Tree
           2. Midsummer Lullaby
           3. Folk Song
           4. Confidence
           5. The West Wind Croons in the Cedar Trees
           6. In the Woods
           7. The Sea
           8. Through the Meadow

Op. 48.  _Second (Indian) Suite_, for orchestra (1897):
           1. Legend
           2. Love Song
           3. In War-time
           4. Dirge
           5. Village Festival

Op. 49.  _Air and Rigaudon_, for piano (1894)

Op. 50.  _Second Sonata (Eroica)_, for piano (1895)

Op. 51.  _Woodland Sketches_, for piano (1896):
           1. To a Wild Rose
           2. Will'-o-the-Wisp
           3. At an Old Trysting Place
           4. In Autumn
           5. From an Indian Lodge
           6. To a Water-lily
           7. From Uncle Remus
           8. A Deserted Farm
           9. By a Meadow Brook
          10. Told at Sunset

Op. 52.  _Three Choruses_, for male voices (1897):
           1. Hush, hush!
           2. From the Sea
           3. The Crusaders

Op. 53.  _Two Choruses_, for male voices (1898):
           1. Bonnie Ann
           2. The Collier Lassie

Op. 54.  _Two Choruses_, for male voices (1898):
           1. A Ballad of Charles the Bold
           2. Midsummer Clouds

Op. 55.  _Sea Pieces_, for piano (1898):
           1. To the Sea
           2. From a Wandering Iceberg
           3. A.D. 1620
           4. Starlight
           5. Song
           6. From the Depths
           7. Nautilus
           8. In Mid-Ocean

Op. 56.  _Four Songs_, for voice and piano (1898):
           1. Long Ago
           2. The Swan Bent Low to the Lily
           3. A Maid Sings Light
           4. As the Gloaming Shadows Creep

Op. 57.  _Third Sonata (Norse)_, for piano (1900)

Op. 58.  _Three Songs_, for voice and piano (1899):
           1. Constancy
           2. Sunrise
           3. Merry Maiden Spring

Op. 59.  _Fourth Sonata (Keltic)_, for piano (1901)

Op. 60.  _Three Songs_, for voice and piano (1902):
           1. Tyrant Love
           2. Fair Springtide
           3. To the Golden Rod

Op. 61.  _Fireside Tales_, for piano (1902):
           1. An Old Love Story
           2. Of Br'er Rabbit
           3. From a German Forest
           4. Of Salamanders
           5. A Haunted House
           6. By Smouldering Embers

Op. 62.  _New England Idyls_, for piano (1902):
           1. An Old Garden
           2. Midsummer
           3. Mid-winter
           4. With Sweet Lavender
           5. In Deep Woods
           6. Indian Idyl
           7. To an Old White Pine
           8. From Puritan Days
           9. From a Log Cabin
          10. The Joy of Autumn


         _Two Songs from the Thirteenth Century_, for male chorus (1897):
           1. Winter Wraps his Grimmest Spell
           2. As the Gloaming Shadows Creep

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